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Jan 23, 2022

Customers bring own cups or 'share' one to avoid new Vancouver fee for disposables

Vancouver’s new disposable cup fee is designed to reduce millions of single-use cups ending up in the trash, but it has some wondering what the money’s being used for.

In the first policy of its kind in Canada, city restaurants and cafés have to charge 25 cents for every throwaway cup they distribute. The policy took effect Jan. 1.

Restaurants are giving customers a range of options to avoid the fee.

Desmond Niles, sipping a coffee from his own mug on the patio of Continental Coffee on Main Street, stopped using single-use cups a long time ago.

But “it feels like the customers are having to pay for the adoption,” Niles said.

Drinking coffee from a disposable cup at a Main Street McDonald’s restaurant, regular customer Tom McDonald called the fee “ridiculous,”  adding that if he continues his habit, it’ll cost him an extra $100 a year.

The fast-food chain recently announced customers will be able to bring in their own mugs for hot beverages. But McDonald complained that a sign announcing the new fee didn’t say anything about bringing your own cup.

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“They don’t tell you anything,” McDonald said.

And because it’s the restaurant, not the city, that keeps the money from the single-use cup fee: “What are they going to do with the money?” he asked.

The City of Vancouver website says food vendors are encouraged — but not obligated — to use the fees to invest in reusable alternatives.

McDonald’s said in a statement it applauds the city’s effort and it plans to use the fees toward its goals of sustainability.

Tim Hortons said in an email it is finalizing its plan for reusable cups. China mugs and plates will be used for guests dining in, and plans are in the works for a deposit on returnable cups or food containers.

Restaurants that participate in reusable cup-share programs will be exempt from reporting to the city the number of disposable cups they distribute each year when they renew their business licences.

Mugshare and ShareWares are local companies offering cup-share programs and each has signed up more than a dozen cafes. Instead of paying the 25-cent fee for a paper cup, customers are offered a semi-permanent plastic cup for a deposit, refundable on the next visit.

ShareWares founder Cody Irwin says his cup-share program is designed to be accessible, without the need to download an app, for instance. ShareWares collects the used cups after they are returned to restaurants, washes and returns them.

Irwin estimates that in Vancouver 441 million takeout cups and containers are trashed each year. “That is a lot of market. I don’t think one company will capture it all,” Irwin said.

Cafés aren’t required to offer reusables, but Irwin said they may be pressured to do so if customers demand it.

“Social shame, that’s what changes society,” he said.

Irwin said ShareWares cups are constructed from recycled material that would be carbon neutral after as little as three uses.

“We definitely believe we can go longer than three times on each cup, maybe a couple hundred,” Irwin said, adding that the $1.50 deposit is cheap enough not to be a barrier for a family of four, but is also high enough to be valuable for binners to collect if people discard them.

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