After a CBC Marketplace investigation last fall revealed that cups collected by some Starbucks and Tim Hortons stores for recycling are being sent to landfill, questions remain about what the coffee chains are actually doing with all those used containers.
And further investigation raises doubt about whether Wasteco, a private garbage hauler hired by the chains for some Toronto stores, actually recycles coffee cups at all.
"Coffee cups will not be recycled," a salesman from Wasteco who was not aware he was speaking with a journalist told a Marketplace producer. "That's the reality, dear. That is real."
- Watch the update on Marketplace Friday at 8 p.m. (8:30 p.m. NT) on CBC-TV and online
- Marketplace: Coffee cups: Do Starbucks and Tim Hortons really recycle?
Marketplace goes dumpster diving — again
The initial Marketplace investigation last October revealed a major gap in how Canada's biggest coffee chains live up to their own green promises.
In that report, Marketplace dropped cups with tracking devices into recycling bins at 14 Tim Hortons stores and 14 Starbucks locations in Toronto. Producers from the program returned at night to look for them.
All of the cups they were able to recover — seven from each chain — were in garbage bins, alongside many other recyclable materials. The other cups could not be located.
Marketplace repeated the test in December at 10 of the same locations — five per chain — in Toronto.
Of five cups placed in Tim Hortons recycling, three were found put out with regular garbage. The others could not be located.
At Starbucks, two cups were found in bins labelled "mixed recycling" and one was put out with regular garbage. One Starbucks location had removed the recycling bin from their stores.
Starbucks keeps review secret
After Marketplace's original report, Starbucks said it would undertake a full review of its recycling programs and how they were being implemented across the country. A notice was posted to customers in its stores.
"Upon hearing of some stores that had not disposed of recyclable material properly, we immediately conducted a review of all our stores across the country, and are taking steps to ensure and confirm that all our stores are delivering on our recycling commitment," the notice said.
While Starbucks' internal review is complete, the company declined to share the results with Marketplace or with the public.
However, Conrad Mackerron, senior vice-president of As You Sow, a non-profit advocacy organization that works to promote corporate environmental and social responsibility, says transparency is essential for companies that make serious green promises to consumers.
"Companies need to be more transparent. They need to verify the recycling processes, they need to walk the talk," he says.
"I think it's important for both Tim Hortons and Starbucks be held accountable, and at least show evidence of independent auditing."
While independent audits are a common tool used by companies to verify that environmental goals are being met, neither Starbucks nor Tim Hortons has made any such reports public.
Questions about Wasteco
Starbucks and Tim Hortons have contracts with Wasteco to handle their garbage and recycling in many stores in Toronto.
Wasteco told Marketplace that coffee cups are sorted and sent for recycling with other paper.
However, several experts say that coffee cups cannot be recycled with paper and require a special process because of their plastic lining.
Marketplace spoke with a salesperson from Wasteco to see what the company tells potential clients. The salesperson was not aware that he was speaking with a journalist.
"The problem is that people say, 'Yeah we will accept this,' which is completely different from 'We will find a final home,' " he said.
"So let's send it right to the landfill instead of driving around and wasting resources, pretending it's going to get recycled."
In a statement, Wasteco wrote that the salesperson was incorrect, but would not answer specific questions about whether Starbucks and Tim Hortons cups are recycled.
City councillor wants action
In response to the Marketplace investigation, Toronto city Coun. Jon Burnside submitted a motion to council asking the province to step in. The motion passed in December.
In that submission, Burnside said that Consumer Protection Act provisions about false and misleading claims should be enforced for all companies that say they recycle but don't.
"It really did make my blood boil," he says. "Basically the public's being duped, and that sort of behavior has to stop."