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Despite being 100% compostable, these drink cups will still end up in the landfill

Click to play video: 'Despite being compostable, Halifax coffee cups still end up in landfill' Despite being compostable, Halifax coffee cups still end up in landfill
WATCH: As the federal government's ban on single-use plastics looms, many businesses are trying to do their part to reduce their use. One Halifax coffee shop has brought in 100 per cent compostable cups to reduce their environmental impact. But as Ashley Field reports, they may not be getting composted as intended. – May 18, 2022

The next time you get a to-go coffee from Java Blend in Halifax, the cup it comes in will be 100 per cent compostable.

But the Halifax Regional Municipality still isn’t ready to compost disposable drink cups.

Mike MacIsaac, a loyal Java Blend customer who gets a to-go coffee daily, said he applauds the coffee shop’s shift to a more sustainable product.

“I don’t like wasting plastic, so anything compostable is going to be better in my book,” he told Global News.

“We throw enough out on a day-to-day basis that anything that’s going to have a bit of an impact is going to be better than nothing.”

Read more: Coffee could soon cost more at grocery stores and cafes. Here’s why

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The café rolled out the new cups about one month ago and the owners say the move was “long overdue.”

“We know as a local business struggling through the pandemic that switching to a more expensive cup and passing that cost along was a very risky thing to do,” said Java Blend co-owner Joe Dunford.

“But we’re getting to the point where that cost is being borne all over the place from insane weather patterns and horrible conditions that are happening here. So we may as well make the leap now.”

The coffee shop serves roughly 400 to-go coffees on any given day, said Dunford, who added that switching to a more environmentally friendly alternative was the “right move.”

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“Java Blend’s been around since 1938, so we definitely have put our fair share of cups in the landfill,” Dunford said.

“Any change whatsoever can be challenging for some people, but we know that it’s here, and change is coming, especially at the federal level. Whether we do it now or later, it is coming so we may as well get used to it.”

Read more: Litterbugs beware: HRM to tackle rubbish problem with help from app

Java Blend worked with Coastal Wholesale, a local café and restaurant supplier, to bring in the cups. Juliette Wang, Coastal Wholesale’s manager, said she wanted to be proactive in looking for alternatives ahead of the federal government’s ban on single-use plastics.

“I have definitely seen an increased demand of people asking for an alternative, and when I do present the option, ‘Hey, Coastal Wholesale has these compostable cups,’ everyone gets super excited.”

Issues with municipality

After sourcing the more expensive product, Wang said she was frustrated to learn from the Halifax Regional Municipality that they may not get composted, as intended.

“[The municipality] said the compostable cups we have might be truly compostable, but in their composting facility it’s hard to distinguish the fully-compostable ones to the biodegradable ones or even the disposable ones. So they just told me that during the sorting process, they may still get picked out,” Wang said.
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Read more: Halifax man has taken to garbage picking while on his daily walks

In an email, HRM public affairs advisor Ryan Nearing said Halifax considers all disposable drink cups to be garbage, even those labelled “biodegradable” and “compostable.”

“Generally, many products labelled as biodegradable or compostable do not break down in the composting process and are removed as contaminants. This is a similar situation as plastics that end up in the green cart. As such, the drink cups are not accepted in the municipality’s green cart program,” Nearing said.

“If a business is looking to purchase new products as alternatives to single-use products like drink cups, they are encouraged to contact the municipality at wasteless@halifax.ca. There are resources to help navigate options that can be included in the green cart.”

Read more: How to live a zero-waste lifestyle: Small steps toward a greener future

Wang said if the cups are compostable, she believes they should be accepted as such.

“The government is making a good mandate for banning single-use plastic products, but the municipality especially should recognize that we are making all these efforts and the facility should catch up,” Wang said.

She said it’s rewarding to get feedback from café owners and their users and that it’s nice to know they’re “doing something right.”

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“This is a move that will eventually happen. Everyone will be demanding for more environmentally friendly products, so I’d rather be ready for that movement. And even if they ended up in the landfill, they will decompose so much faster,” Wang said.

Drink cups number one HRM litter item

According to the Halifax Regional Municipality’s new Litterati app launched in April, the number one litter item picked up is drink cups, accounting for roughly 70 per cent of all litter picked up around HRM.

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While Java Blend has made the switch to compostable cups, it’s also encouraging customers to forego the disposable cups altogether. The coffee shop brought back its reusable cup program, which was halted due to the pandemic.

“It’s one that we welcome back, and we actually felt pressure from the community to bring that back. We just wanted to wait until all our staff were comfortable making that change,” Dunford said.

“That’s the second step to our biodegradable and reusable cup program,” Dunford said.

He added the shop now sells Huskee reusable cups and is involved in the HuskeeSwap program.

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“It started all the way down in Australia, where people bring in a cup and we just swap it out for them here, so they can always have a reusable cup.”

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