Don’t Blow Your Lid!

Put your money where OUR mouth is, Mr. Coffee-Man

Edie Tuck
Edie Tuck
Sep 15 · 7 min read
(Photo by Autor)

It’s no secret that we’re right in the middle of a growing revolution to save the planet. It’s also no secret that not everybody is on board.

I’ve noticed a few of the big names here begin to implement a change. Harvey’s, A&W, Kelsey’s Bar & Grill, to name a few — they’ve all replaced their ocean-clogging plastic straws with an eco-friendly paper biodegradable straw. Way to go, guys! That’s fantastic!

…but what about the rest?

When will the coffee and fast-food industry giants like Tim Hortons, Starbucks, and McDonald’s jump on this bandwagon? And the straws are great, but what about the cup, and what about the lid, and the little plastic stir-sticks? Is it a money issue? Are you a little hard-up these days?

Well, if we’re talking money, then let's look at this. (Sorry Timmy. I love you but I’m picking on you for this one!)

Tim Hortons has recently changed their little brown plastic leaky lid, with a bigger brown plastic leaky lid, complete with an embossed maple leaf (Go Canada!). Hm. I wonder how much it cost to implement that change? I mean, not only is each lid now made up of more plastic but it also now has that pretty Canadian emblem stamped in the middle.

So — who’s doing the stamping, and how much is it costing the coffee-man? (I couldn’t find statistics about this so I’m thinking that information is proprietary.)

So then, my question is: if you’re going to spend the money on changing your product, wouldn’t it make sense to change it to something that’s not only sustainable but also Earth-friendly?

If we can make a biodegradable straw, can we not also make the lid and cup to match?

Now, before someone goes off on a tangent about how I’m bashing a great Canadian icon, calm down. I’m not. I love Tim’s coffee, and I think they’re actually doing some pretty amazing things when it comes to what’s going inside the cups.

Their Tim Hortons Partnership Program goes above and beyond. I could talk on and on about it, I really could. It’s that great! But this video actually says it all. Have a look, it’s only a couple of minutes and pretty inspiring.

But it’s not what’s in the cups that I’m questioning here. Because that’s freaking delicious.

What I’m talking about is what holds that perfect nectar of the coffee gods.

I wanted to interview the CEO (or anyone, really) to get some insider quotes, but I quickly realized I just don’t have the clout (yet). So I’ve settled for the little Q&A section of their website.

When asked ‘Can the Tim Hortons cups be recycled?’, the answer is:

“Yes, the Tim Hortons cup can be recycled, but it is not accepted for recycling everywhere at this time. We currently have programs in a number of our restaurants across Canada where we capture our paper cups (and other packaging) for recycling or composting. The number of locations where we offer in-store recycling continues to grow as we work with local waste management companies to expand our program.”

Okay. Points for that. And you might say, ‘not bad’, right? Well, I’m not so sure. I see a couple of obvious issues with that right off the bat.

  1. There’s no recycling symbol on the cup itself, so that makes it a little difficult to find out if your town or city accepts them. In my case, I know they don’t because I’ve looked on the town website and it clearly states ‘no beverage cups or lids’.
  2. Although the lids do have the little recycling symbol, again, they’re not accepted everywhere. And truthfully, it wouldn’t matter if they were. Because of the size of the lids, they mostly all fall through the cracks and don’t actually make it to the end of the line to be recycled. More plastic for the landfill, or the ocean. But that’s another story.
  3. Implementation. Okay, so some of the stores across Canada accept the empty cups back to recycle them. (The stores in my town do not — I checked. I called all three locations — it’s a small town — and they had no idea what I was talking about.) But what would the percentage of patrons be who would actually drive back to the store every week or two with their collection of empty coffee cups? I’m no expert, but I would say it would be a very low percentage.

People aren’t really apt to go out of their way to do anything unless there’s something in it for them — some kind of reward. Like the handful of change you get for returning empties to the liquor store.

And let’s face it, society hasn’t really proven itself in this department yet, so we can’t leave it up to the masses to take on this responsibility. Therefore, it only makes sense to start at the root and eliminate the problem before it starts.

Finding sustainable solutions

For the longest time, I didn’t even think about it. It never even cross my mind that I couldn’t just throw these ‘paper’ cups into the blue bin, and off they would go to be made into new cups — or toilet paper. I never thought about the fact that they’re not entirely made of paper.

What about the polyethylene lining that makes them leak-proof? And what about the fact that paper and plastics aren’t recycled in the same way? So what — is there a conveyer belt in some factory somewhere, where these cups go to have their innards ripped out? I’m serious; is there?

It’s also interesting to know that these disposable coffee cups cannot be made with recycled materials. This means that they’re made entirely of virgin materials. AKA we’re cutting down trees so we can drink our coffee on the run.

So, what are the better options?

(Note: I’m not affiliated with any of the products listed below)

World Centric Cups. These hot cups are certified biodegradable and ‘guaranteed to break down in 2–3 months in industrial facilities.’ I wonder how long they would take to break down in my backyard compost bin?

Planet+. These are also 100% compostable, and they’re leak-proof — coated with a corn-based resin lining instead of a nasty petroleum-based coating. (I know, I know. Corn is one of the biggest GMO culprits out there, but for the sake of this article, let’s just stick to the issue at hand.) Another plus for these guys: their lids are also 100% compostable. Bonus!

Seaweed? It’s for more than just your sushi!

“You use a coffee cup for half an hour maximum and then it’s going to be in the environment for probably 700 years. That’s a big mismatch in terms of use and shelf-life.” — Garcia Gonzalez

Garcia is the CEO and co-founder of Skipping Rocks Lab, a startup based in the UK. Their goal is to replace polyethylene or oil-based wax linings in hot cups with a lining created using the natural materials extracted from seaweed and other plants. Hey, as long as my coffee doesn’t taste fishy, I’m all for it!

My take on this is hemp. I mean, why not? it’s probably one of the most sustainable and renewable crops out there, and it consumes about four times the amount of Co2 as other plants. Plus, you can make practically anything out of hemp, so why not takeaway cups and lids?

Hot and cold! I’ve found websites talking about hemp plastics, but nothing about hemp-based coatings or cup linings. (But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist or that it’s not possible.)

To me, it only makes sense — and I haven’t yet yeard of GMO hemp, so it’s a win-win, right?

Think about it — cleaner air from all those plants. Less deforestation because we wouldn’t need the trees anymore to make the cups (and probably a lot more products if we really go all out!) Less single-use plastics polluting our oceans and waterways (also meaning, cleaner and safer water for us as well as the fishies!) And less trash building up the landfills.

Putting their money where our mouth is

So I ask again: If you’re going to go ahead and spend money on a new and improved product, why not do it right?

If all the industry leaders actually stood up and made the switch, just think of the global impact they could make. Think of the chain reaction that would ensue when all of the smaller fish followed suit.

We could be eliminating approximately half a trillion single-use disposable coffee cups every year. Yes, you read that right. Half. A. Trillion!

You want to make a real difference in the world, Mr. Coffee-Man? If that’s not an incentive, I don’t know what is.


In the meantime, as consumers, we don’t have to wait for the big guns to make the changes. We can each do our part. It’s our duty as citizens of Earth. If every person who says ‘I’m just one person, what difference could I possibly make?’ actually did it, that would be a whole lot of ‘just one persons.’

I’m not saying we should boycott the coffee man — our nation runs on coffee. Let’s face it, it’s how most of us stay sane (and keep from committing heinous crimes of passion). But we can be more mindful about how we drink our coffee.

Bring your own eco-friendly reusable cup — you’ll be helping to save the planet, and probably even get a discount!


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Edie Tuck

Written by

Edie Tuck

Writer - designer - nature enthusiast - worshiper of Gaia - self-love advocate - empty nester - simple-life seeker extraordinaire! ~ Own Your Journey ~

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