Quebec's Green Party proposes deposit system for reusable 'to-go' coffee cups

The Green Party of Quebec is proposing a provincewide strategy to eliminate disposable coffee cups by replacing them with a deposit system for reusable ones.

Plan would mandate reusable universal coffee cups be used by any business that sells coffee in the province

Dominique Jacques, the co-owner of Melk, said he feels stuck when it comes to reducing the number of single-use coffee cups his café goes through. (Navneet Pall/CBC)

The Green Party of Quebec is proposing a provincewide strategy to eliminate disposable coffee cups by replacing them with a deposit system for reusable ones.

"Anybody who buys a coffee would be able to get it in a reusable cup and would receive a reusable cup in exchange for a deposit," said Green Party Leader Alex Tyrrell told CBC Montreal's Daybreak Tuesday.

"In much the same way we have with bottles, they could drink their coffee and then bring their cup back and they could get a refund for their deposit."

The deposit, he said, would be around $2 or $3 and it would be for a universal coffee cup that would be used by all businesses that sell coffee to go across the province.

By making businesses use a universal cup, customers wouldn't have to bring their reusable mug back to the same coffee shop or franchise to get a refill or their money back.

This method allows coffee drinkers to still buy hot beverages spontaneously without having to cart around their travel mug all day, he explained.

Indie café owners hopeful

Dominique Jacques, the co-owner of Melk Coffee Bar on Monkland Avenue in the Notre-Dame-de-Grâce neighbourhood, said he doesn't know how to avoid using disposable coffee cups.

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"I don't have a solution and I'm actively looking for one," he said. "I feel stuck."

Jacques said that whatever the Green Party proposes, he thinks big chains like Starbucks or McDonald's will have to adopt the new policies for them to work.

At the independent coffee shop Cafe 92 on Sherbrooke Street West, manager Marie Paquette said they've been giving out reusable mugs, but that customers aren't being charged.

"If we started charging people with it, it would just discourage them instead of encouraging people," Paquette said.

Coffee cups are made of paper and plastic, and most places don't recycle them. (CBC)

Single-use cups used by Canadians annually

The cup program, Tyrrell said, could be expanded to anything from meat packaging to utensils as the Green Party aims to eliminate all plastic and paper waste in the food and beverage industry by the year 2030.

According to the non-profit organization Zero Waste Canada, 14 billion cups of coffee are consumed in Canada every year, 35 per cent of which are taken to go — mostly in the form of single-use cups. 

Tyrrell said "people are [using] an average of 250 disposable coffee cups per year. We're talking about 1.5 billion cups per year across the province and they're not recyclable."

Industry expected to push back against plan

"It's a way to really eliminate the millions and millions of disposable coffee cups that end up in the landfill because they're not recyclable," he said.

The proposed reusable cup would come in a variety of sizes, Tyrrell said, and a design competition would be held to decide on the best material and most efficient shape.

Protests from the industry would be expected, Tyrrell noted, as the larger companies currently operate with very little to no sustainable practices. Many, he added, don't even have recycling.

"The restaurants would have to install the systems to be able to wash the cups and be able to handle them," he said, adding businesses would save on the cost of buying disposable cups.

"We expect a certain amount of pushback from them, but I think that's the role of the government to regulate certain industries, especially when they're using huge amounts of resources unnecessarily."

This is a way to crack down on waste without impacting people's lifestyle too much, he said, noting there would be public consultation on the issues.

The consultations would give industry leaders and citizens an opportunity to give input, he said.

"Change is always a little bit difficult," Tyrrell said. "Especially when there are stakeholders who have built huge and profitable businesses on unsustainable practices."


  • A previous version of this story stated that Canadians throw away 14 billion single-use cups every year. In fact, Canadians drink 14 billion cups of coffee every year, not necessarily from a single-use cup.
    Aug 08, 2018 4:39 PM ET

With files from CBC Montreal's Daybreak and CBC's Navneet Pall