Coffee. It’s what gets some of us out of bed in the morning. Sometimes it’s hard to think twice about the waste we’re generating when grabbing a beverage to go at the coffee shop down the street on the way to work. But single use items add up, especially when their usage becomes habitual.
Increased consumer consumption and use of disposable items driven by convenience and limited free time can have a lasting impact on our environment. In a groundbreaking effort to reduce solid landfill and incinerator waste, the city of Vancouver has begun taking steps to reduce single use items like disposable cups.
Large-scale efforts like this can lessen our communities’ waste generation in a big way. The city found that over 2.6 million coffee cups make their way into Vancouver landfills each week and take up about 22% of the volume of its on-street garbage system. Further, polycoat paper cups cost Vancouver taxpayers about 2.5 million dollars a year to collect from public waste bins.
City of Vancouver staff members have been researching ways to reduce single use waste since February 2016 in an effort to reach their 2040 Zero Waste goal. The city has reviewed regulatory options addressing the distribution and disposal of single use products such as paper cups and take out containers and has considered options ranging from bans on distribution to mug share programs.
Initiatives designed to reduce the distribution of single use items will affect almost all consumers and over 10,000 businesses in Vancouver. Reducing waste on such a scale poses numerous challenges in creating realistic solutions. It is not entirely feasible to expect visitors to Vancouver to bring in a reusable coffee mug when buying a coffee on the go for example. Ultimately, a balance must be struck between Vancouver’s Zero Waste goal and business’ ability to meet customer’s needs without unjustifiably impacting their operations.
Creative and innovative thinking is required to effectively address these issues. City staff engaged in consultations with stakeholders throughout the summer and a public input survey is being made available this fall. They have discussed numerous solutions, including fees and deposits, disposal bans, mug share programs, mandatory in-store recycling, and education. Vancouver has also been piloting on-street recycling for disposable cups and non-foam takeout containers in select locations.
Jurisdictions all over the world are working to lessen the waste from single use items with varying approaches. Mug share programs are being piloted in Germany and New York, while mandatory in-store recycling programs have been adopted in Seattle, San Francisco, and Minneapolis.
Innovative cities like Vancouver are leading the way in sustainability and are offering opportunities for residents to become engaged in waste reduction community initiatives. By providing a collaborative discourse designed to engage citizens and stakeholders of all sorts, Vancouver is paving a way for the city to shift from a linear model of consumption to a more sustainable economy.
Learn more about the City of Vancouver’s 2040 Zero-Waste goal.
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