Technology & Science

Tim Hortons changes Roll Up the Rim contest to go greener

Tim Hortons is making changes to its Roll Up the Rim contest this year to reduce waste and encourage customers to bring their own mugs.

Customers who bring their own mugs will get more chances to win but have to register online

Tim Hortons has pledged to make this years Roll Up the Rim contest greener with reusable cups. In previous years, the contest has led to millions of single-use cups being disposed of. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press)

Until now, Tim Hortons' annual Roll Up the Rim contest encouraged customers to consume and throw out millions of disposable coffee cups for a chance to win prizes. But this year it's rolling out a greener version of the contest.

"We listened to the feedback from our guests, who wanted us to modernize the program," Hope Bagozzi, the company's chief marketing officer, said in a statement Wednesday.

This year's contest, which runs from March 11 to April 7, allows people to play online at rolluptherimtowin.ca or through the Tim Hortons app. In fact, they'll only be able to get a disposable contest cup for the first two weeks of the contest.

"We will reward guests who make the sustainable choice by using a reusable cup," Bagozzi said. They'll get extra chances to win, compared to those who opt for a disposable cup.

However, customers who play digitally will need to provide an email address and register a Tim Rewards card. Previously, all you needed to do to claim a smaller prize was to present a winning cup (or even just the rim).

Tim Hortons will also be giving away 1.8 million free reusable cups starting March 10 ahead of the contest launch.

Traditionally, the contest that began in 1986 has involved rolling up the rim of a disposable plastic-lined paper cup to reveal prizes ranging from a free coffee or doughnut to TVs and cars. Customers who brought their own mugs still had to accept a paper cup to play.

That led to criticism and petitions from Canadian environmental groups and schoolchildren, who said it encouraged people to generate more waste, most of which wasn't recycled and often ended up as litter.

Millions of cups, most not recycled

According to Greenpeace, the company produced 260 million single-use cups for last year's contest alone. CBC News has reached out to Tim Hortons to verify that number.

Greenpeace also surveyed 20 major municipalities across Canada and found the combination of cups and lids were not collected for recycling in 15 of them. 

This Tim Hortons cup was found along the St. John River in Fredericton, N.B., during a mini cleanup and brand audit at Morell Park in September 2019. The plastic-lined cups and plastic lids are often found during shoreline cleanups, leading to the company being named by Greenpeace as one of Canada's top plastic polluters. (Greenpeace)

The cups and lids have been among the top items found in shoreline cleanups across the country. That's helped earn Tim Hortons a place as one of Canada's "top plastic polluters" in Greenpeace's annual audits of branded plastic litter.

Sarah King, the head of Greenpeace Canada's oceans and plastics campaign, said in a statement she's pleased that the company is committing to going beyond the disposable cup by incentivizing its customers to use resusables during the contest.

"Tim Hortons' vow to change consumer habits towards using reusable cups is the right direction for the coffee sector who has based its business model on the throwaway culture," she added.  "We are hopeful that Tim Hortons will lead the fast-food industry into a new era of replacing all disposables with reusables."

However, Mark Gordon, a Toronto-based customer experience expert, told CBC Calgary he thinks the changes will inconvenience customers and have a negative impact on a popular, long-running campaign.

"[Customers] just can't wait to finish it and do that little ritual of rolling up the edge. People love doing it, and they've been doing it for 30 years and it's part of the fun and the unique character of this promotion."

He said he doesn't think this year's contest will go well for Tim Hortons and doesn't think this format will continue next year.

About the Author

Emily Chung

Science and Technology Writer

Emily Chung covers science and technology for CBC News. She has previously worked as a digital journalist for CBC Ottawa and as an occasional producer at CBC's Quirks & Quarks. She has a PhD in chemistry.

With files from Meegan Read

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