Nfld. & Labrador

Recycling reward for disposable cups? It's 'complicated'

If coffee cups are the stuff litterbugs' dreams are made of, would a financial incentive for recycling them curb the problem?

Plastic bags, coffee cups not ideal recycling candidates, says Multi-Materials Stewardship Board

According to Corner Brook city Coun. Tony Buckle, there were more than 40,000 coffee cups collected, which filled three Dumpsters during a clean-up blitz in May. (Facebook/City of Corner Brook)

If you get money for recycling aluminum cans and plastic bottles, how about for disposable coffee cups? 

They last far beyond a hot cup of joe — plaguing green spaces and city streets as one of the most dominant forms of litter.

"That's a very complicated question," said Mike Samson, CEO of the Multi-Materials Stewardship Board, which is a Crown agency of the Newfoundland and Labrador government. 

"We're not aware of a deposit return system in place anywhere for [disposable cups]."

Plastic bags litter a landfill. (CBC)

Samson said it all starts with comparing apples to apples.

Traditional beverage containers, made of aluminum and plastic, are much more desirable from a recycling standpoint since they have value and offer financial reward, he said.

"Plastic bags have a particular issue with their type of material. It's a low-density material tangling in the equipment and that sort of stuff," Samson told CBC Radio's St. John's Morning Show. 

"And of course the coffee cups themselves are not actually paper; they're actually a composite material, a composite of plastic and paper, which makes them difficult and expensive to recycle."

Think again, litterbugs

The scourge of littered plastic bags and coffee cups is especially problematic here in Newfoundland and Labrador, said Samson because "it's a very windy place."

But, while littering may seem pervasive, Samson said it starts with one person and their choices. 

Multi-Materials Stewardship Board CEO Mike Samson says using a reusable coffee cup is a good place to start when it comes to helping the environment.

"In the first instance, [it's] about the kind of materials they choose to use. So an individual will make a decision whether to use a reusable coffee cup or a disposable coffee cup," he said.

"Next of all, in the big decision … individuals make a choice as to whether to hold on to it and place it in the appropriate receptacle or to throw it out the window."

With files from the St. John's Morning Show