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Roll up the Rim to Destroy the Planet

by Archives March 24, 2009

The Concordia community trashes 3.9 million non-recyclable disposable coffee cups every year, according to Concordia’s environmental coordinator, Louise Henault-Ethier. Each community member trashes, on average, about 75 disposable coffee cups on campus each year, she said.
“Student’s are addicted to coffee,” she said. “But this behaviour has a great impact on our environment.”
Last week Sustainable Concordia, with the help of over 20 volunteers, sifted through 350 kg of trash – a small percentage of the garbage Concordia students, faculty and administration produce on both campuses.
For five days, trash was collected from over 100 locations on the downtown and Loyola campuses, including kitchens, hallways, auditoriums, offices and classrooms. Volunteers sifted through the garbage and separated the contents according to their composition. The containers for plastic, metal and glass were not as full as in previous waste audits. In fact, Henault-Ethier said, the total amount of plastic, glass and metal items placed in the garbage decreased from 16 per cent to 15 per cent. This suggests more people are placing the materials in recycling, rather than in the garbage. The amount of paper and cardboard thrown in the trash dropped dramatically, from 15 per cent to nine per cent of the garbage.
There was one disturbing statistic from the audit though, Henault-Ethier said. The fraction of disposable coffee cups trashed on campus increased from eight per cent of the waste in 2007 to almost 10 per cent in 2009. This increase came despite campus-wide urging students to forgo disposable cups and use reusable mugs instead. “Students are addicted to coffee,” she said. “But this behaviour has a great impact on out environment.”
This year’s coordinator for the audit, Sebastian Sanchez was surprised at the amount of coffee cups he and the volunteers found in the trash…
… especially Tim Hortons cups. “We had enormous towers of Tim Hortons cups,” he said. “We could have built buildings out of them. I’m sorry Tim Hortons, but it’s just because it’s Roll up the Rim. People are drinking all these coffees because they want to win. These kinds of competitions promote waste. It’s really too bad,” he said.
The incentive to purchase coffee in a reusable mug is usually a few cents off the regular price. These benefits aren’t great enough though, Henaul-Ethier said. She suggested selling disposable coffee cups instead of giving them away for free.
Disposable coffee cups were found in both the garbage and the recycling streams, despite the fact they are not recyclable. Most disposable coffee cups, including those sold at Tim Hortons, are neither recyclable nor biodegradable because of their non-biodegradable plastic or wax liners. These linings prevent the cups from being pulped with other paper products; they can’t be recycled with wax-coated milk cartons either, since the two items don’t melt at the same rate. Styrofoam is not recyclable either.
Tim Hortons customers receive a 10-cent discount when purchasing beverages in a travel mug. But by using a reusable mug, customers take themselves out of the running for a prize.
No one from the Tim Hortons communications department was available for comment. According to the company’s website, however, it is “always researching alternative packaging materials” that are recyclable, compostable or both.
Though the majority of sorting and recycling plants are not equipped to process disposable coffee mugs, there are facilities that can in Moncton, N.B and Windsor, Ont.
The results of Concordia’s waste audit will be used to evaluate which areas of the university’s waste management need improvement, Sanchez said.
“Just as important too,” he said, “is to see if the Concordia community has a sense of individual waste consciousness.”

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