The Other Tim Horton's Mess 

July 1st, 2015 | R. Rados 

tim hortons

Year after year, Canadians from all corners of the political cube roll through a Tim's drive-thru and order their double-doubles in one or two (sometimes three) extra cups. They sip their scorching hot tanker fuel impatiently, hoping to get through that watered down bitumen so they can roll up their rims and win. It's usually near the final days of Tim Horton's famous “Roll Up The Rim” contest that locations across Canada start trying to pawn off their excess supply of special cups. Besides encouraging people to touch the rims of their cups without advising them to wash their hands afterward, Canada's beloved coffee merchant dispenses hundreds of millions of non-recyclable cups into the environment. As expected, we hear nothing about this from the same environmentalists who convinced Tim Horton's to drop Enbridge ads from their in-store televisions.

Most municipalities in Canada can't recycle coffee cups, not the Tim Horton's kind or the Starbucks kind. What makes Tim Horton's worse is that in most Tim's locations, you don't see non-disposable mugs and cups on a noticeable display like you do at Starbucks. The Roll Up The Rim contest just adds to Tim Horton's environmentally destructive model. Even if you own a Tim Horton's thermos or mug, you're still going to get a non-recyclable cup for their ridiculous contest.

Conservatives usually shudder when they hear someone talk about or accuse someone of being environmentally destructive, but a lot of self described conservatives are environmentalists at heart. They're just too used to such talk coming from the far left. When it comes down to it, the sight of coffee cups piling up at landfills makes conservatives just as sick as everyone else. The sight of man-made machines mowing over lush, green forests makes them even more sick. Before he went off the deep end, it was Preston Manning who called conservatives “the original conservationists”. He reiterated his remarks during his push for a carbon tax – but most conservatives are smart enough to know that carbon pricing isn't a solution.

On the subject of non-recyclable cups, we can't fully put the blame on Starbucks and Tim Horton's. Although Tim Horton's should be held accountable for its contest, we can't tackle the problem without looking at why these coffee cups are rejected by most recyclers in Canada. So, before we focus on Tim Horton's, lets take a quick look at why their cups can't be recycled.

The Non-Recyclable 

Getting a clear and consistent answer from waste haulers and recycling facilities is a fruitless quest, but it does give us some insight. Unfortunately, that insight might make you as angry as seeing a Tim Horton's cup floating in a pristine, blue lake near Banff.

The first reason most recyclers don't recycle coffee cups is because they don't make a profit from doing it. Unlike milk cartons, there are no environmental deposits on coffee cups. Recycling coffee cups equals a lot of work with minimal benefit. The second reason – or excuse – is that many automated sorting machines get confused by coffee cups because they are only coated with polyethylene on one side. As a result, they get sorted incorrectly and end up being thrown out. The third reason is the most understandable. The ink on coffee cups is on the outside, where there is no polyethylene coating. Milk cartons have a polyethylene coating on both the inside and outside, so the ink labelling is easily removed with the polyethylene. Paper with ink is usually turned into pulp, but since coffee cups have a polyethylene coating, they can't be sorted with newspapers and turned to pulp.

These problems seem like they should have easy solutions, but no one has ever bothered to tackle them. Instead, it seems like everyone involved would rather shrug their shoulders and forget about it. Most of the recycling problems could be solved by introducing a profit, but that could mean increasing the cost of a cup of coffee. A profit would encourage recyclers to put an effort into recycling Tim Horton's cups and encourage customers to save money by buying re-useable mugs. However, this strategy has already been presented and shot down in both Calgary and Toronto. That leaves consumers with only one choice. To target the source.

So how many cups do Canadians burn through in a year? Between one and two billion. Most of these non-recyclable cups end up in landfills, on streets, in lakes and scattered across highways and paths in the Rocky Mountains. Honestly, it's disgusting. Asking people to throw trash in a garbage bin or to recycle isn't enough. It should never come to forcing people to recycle either, even if these coffee cups were recyclable. A part of the solution comes down to Tim Horton's taking responsibility for itself.

Taking Responsibility

Some Tim Horton's locations encourage their customers to recycle by placing sorted recycling bins in their drive thrus and stores, but since most municipalities – including Calgary and Toronto – can't recycle their cups, we have to wonder if they're actually being recycled at all. In Nova Scotia, some Timmy's cups are recycled – on a limited basis – into flimsy take-out trays. The problem with that is that Tim Horton's still produces more cups than take-out trays. In some areas, the company sponsors local clean-up crews. Also, like Starbucks, Tim Horton's sells re-useable coffee mugs. They just aren't as conveniently displayed in their stores.

A lot of Tim's efforts seem to be more about PR than anything else. If it was about anything more than the company's image, they would discontinue a contest that encourages the production and distribution of non-recyclable cups.

Starbucks and Second Cup don't have contests that ask their customers to participate by purchasing coffee in non-recyclable cups. At a place like Starbucks, Roll Up The Rim is just another term for sacrilege. To conservatives, that's a grossly liberal mentality, but it can't compare to being as ludicrous as sending Canadian dollars to Brazil instead of the United States. For those who forgot the highly publicized Burger King takeover of Tim Horton's, it's worth learning the name of Brazil's richest man. His name is Jorge Paulo Lemann and his networth rose to nearly $25 billion after the deal. The networth of his two business partners, Marcelo Telles and Carlos Sicupira, also rose. The networth of all three men rose to a collective $46 billion. So, while Canadians throw their money at silly contests that involve expanding the size of their own landfills, the three muskateers of Brazil are winning the most.

Not only are your chances of winning a new car or a huge cash prize slim, you're more likely to win a stale donut or another cup of coffee in a non-recyclable cup. The biggest problem with the contest is that a majority of the cups are losers. To make matters even worse, customers are asked to “try again”.

You can take Tim's advice and roll up another slimy, damp rim and chuck your loser in the trash or on the side of a highway. That appears to be the Canadian thing to do. Or, another option would be to decide for yourself what “Canadian” is and start buying more re-useable mugs. The truly Canadian thing would be to let the Brazilian company's ridiculous contest die a slow and painful death. To take it a step further, being truly Canadian would mean becoming a regular customer at Second Cup – a company still owned by Canadians.