Did the Tim Horton's coffee chain really "close the loop" with coffee cups?

CC BY 2.0 Toronto City Life

Tim Horton's sells 80% of the coffee in Canada. Its empty cups litter the highways. The City of Toronto alone has to deal with 365 million empty cups in its garbage stream every year. The amount of CO2 and other pollutants generated by pickups idling in the drive-through lane is probably equivalent to a couple of city's worth of traffic.

planet cupTim Hortons/Promo image

But they now proudly promote a "closed loop recycling system" that munches up the cups and napkins and turns them into take-out trays. Lauren Turner at Greenbiz thinks it's the greatest thing since the Timbit.

The cup-to-tray project required the collaborative efforts of Tim Hortons’ corporate offices, restaurant owners, participating staff and several community partners, together creating a unique pathway for product recycling, transportation and regeneration. The initiative required years of planning, community engagement and consumer buy-in. The end result was a cost-neutral, closed-loop system that underscored Tim Hortons’ sustainable priorities.

First of all, I don't know how you can use the phrase "closed loop" when the cups are turned into take-out trays. There has to be a constant input of new cups; it would only be closed loop if the waste was turned into cups. Then there is the issue of "community engagement". The writer notes: "When students at Nova Scotia colleges began collecting Tim Hortons cups and driving them to restaurant recycling units, it was clear the initiative had rubbed off on the public."- once again, the monster coffee company has outsourced its producer responsibility, this time to kids who are using their own cars and gasoline to pick up the company's garbage.

Lauren Turner positively gushes about this.

The implementation of the unique cradle-to-cradle design strategy required the unlearning of outdated knowledge and to overcome the assumption that it was too daunting a task to accomplish. Although the cup-to-tray idea seemed like a daunting goal, [Regulatory manager Carol] Patterson says Tim Hortons strived to convince weary stakeholders that the process wouldn’t be as difficult to manage as it was perceived. For years, municipalities in Nova Scotia told the company that it couldn’t be done, but today, all 156 locations in Nova Scotia effectively have closed the loop.

It's not cradle-to-cradle, it's downcycling. It's not closed loop. It's not even cost-neutral; they have externalized the costs to kids picking cups off the ground for them.

There is no question that Timmy's is trying. However the real problem is the entire premise of the business, that we can have a system based on drive-throughs and disposables. Let's see them try to change that, and then I will gush too.

Did the Tim Horton's coffee chain really "close the loop" with coffee cups?
Recycling paper cups into takeout trays is a good idea, but let's not get carried away.

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