“About 72 per cent of people claim they have a reusable coffee cup, but 60 per cent of these people don’t use it on a regular basis,” says Leanne Michie, a green workplace consultant for Green Calgary, referring to a recent survey conducted by her group.
A recent downtown waste assessment determined that single-use coffee cups make up 5-9 per cent of the weight of garbage disposed of in the core.
The finding has prompted Green Calgary to narrow its focus on reducing that waste to the cup problem.
The supply of single-use cups at coffee shops, combined with the reluctance of people to bring a reusable mug to Starbucks, or Tims, is a huge factor in the amount of waste that appears at landfills.
“The whole system of how our coffee shops work makes it easy to do the wrong thing,” says Michie.
She also explained that the logo on the cups is a “trendy” reason for people to opt for the paper cup.
“That’s an odd little angle that we’ve taken, that having your garbage (for example, a Starbucks cup) in your hand is, for whatever reason, sexy.”
After narrowing their focus, Green Calgary took to utilizing community-based social marketing, and is now focussing on the barriers to behavioural change specific to the use of coffee cups. They are now piloting potential strategies to several local coffee merchants to see if the strategy will work.
“But we are just scratching the surface at this point,” says Michie.
According to a recent survey of the 12 independent coffee merchants who have agreed to work with Green Calgary, one coffee shop said they go through about 75,000 non-reusable coffee cups each month.
“There’s a big misconception that disposable one-use paper cups are recyclable, which they’re not,”
According to Michie, there is no true recycling of coffee cups in Canada, which means the cups will go straight to the landfill.
“If they do wind up in the landfill, because of the paper, it decomposes and creates methane, which is a very toxic greenhouse gas.”
Coffee cups, including recyclable and other organic materials, also leach a chemical called leachate into the ground water when decomposed in a landfill.
“If a certified compostable cup gets put into a landfill, it’s even worse than a paper cup.”
This is because compostable material should break down naturally, but when compostable material sits in an anaerobic environment such as a landfill, there is not enough oxygen for the material to properly decompose.
Green Calgary’s next step is to hope for more funding to go deeper into this project, so that Calgarians can one day lead the country is use of recyclable coffee cups over the paper kind.
Green Calgary was able to launch the Coffee Cup Campaign after receiving an Alberta Ecotrust Foundation grant that was originally intended for reducing disposables.