Let's Talk Trash: Are disposable cups garbage?

Do you have your reusable water bottle or personal coffee mug today? Many of us have converted to the sanity of bringing these with us wherever we go, but apparently not all.

A recent study out of Metro Vancouver found that the average person throws away more than 100 disposable cups per year. This number does not even account for the additional cups that make their way into recycling bins.

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When we do find ourselves with a disposable cup, where’s the best place to lay it to rest when we’re done?

Although at first glance your average coffee to-go cup, kid’s lemonade-stand cup, or beer paper cup seem like kin, a closer look puts them in different families altogether. Their inherent differences mean only some are recyclable, while others are garbage.

Yes, it would be easier if industry standards were streamlined and all to-go wear were recyclable, but alas, that day has not yet arrived. Until it does, a few simple tips will help guide you to the correct bin once you’re done your tasty beverage.

The good news is that almost all disposable cups are recyclable, and nearly all their component parts can go into the same bin without needing separation. These basic guidelines should help you sort them out.

1. All plastic cold-drink disposable cups and lids are recyclable, except any labelled “compostable” or “biodegradable.”

2.  Any cup or lid labelled “compostable” cannot go in our local compost pilot bins at curbside or Town Centre Recycling Depot. Our region does not accept these for a number of reasons, including the fact that compostable plastics are only designed to break down in very specific environments over extended periods of time, which usually exceed their compost pile rotations. Many composting facilities do not accept any compostable plastics whatsoever.

3. Plastic straws are considered garbage. Pure paper straws or hay straws can be composted, however.

4. Rinsed coffee to-go cups, their paper sleeves and their plastic lids can all go in the container stream or the blue box unsorted. Check, though, to make sure the cup and the plastic lid are not labelled compostable. Compostable lids and cups must go in the garbage.

5. Pure foam cups are accepted, but go in the foam bins at depots only, not at curbside. The compressed thin foam coffee cups are not accepted anywhere, however, and must be landfilled.

6. All recyclable, disposable cups can go in your curbside blue bin, or the container bin at any of our regional recycling depots. If in doubt, just ask depot staff to help with your guessing game.

If you are finding all this confusing, there is one easy way to get around sorting it out. Bring your own reusable cup and straw. This often comes with the reward of a slight discount, and a drink that is less likely to spill or cool down before being fully enjoyed.

Let’s Talk Trash is qathet Regional District’s waste-reduction education program.

 
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