Toronto May Ban the Coffee Cup

by Tim Fulton on September 16, 2008

Image: Toronto Star

Toronto has an ambitious plan to reduce waste to landfill by 70% by 2010. This means that consumption of one-time use containers will have to decrease dramatically. As you can see in the above picture from the Star, trash on city streets is made up of plastic bags, coffee cups, and fast food containers. Just imagine what would happen to New York City’s trash volume if Starbucks forced all their patrons to bring their own cups!

According to the Toronto Star, the city is considering three options:

An outright ban.

A levy or tax on the items. (Charging extra would presumably influence consumers to use recyclable cups or containers.)

A deposit-return program similar to the provincial bottle return program, whereby consumers get at least a portion of their money back if they turn in the container, making the seller responsible for recycling it.

Toronto’s ambitous plans are spurred by a landfill that’s nearing capacity and the desire to avoid incineration, which can release toxic gases and large amounts of global warming gases. But will their initiative work?

Reducing waste to landfill through legislation

Let’s take a look at the three options presented by the Toronto government, as well as their possible pros and cons:

  1. Ban: Considering that the ban would take place on a business level, I think it would be very successful. All one would need to do is pop into any coffee shop and see if they’re handing out disposable cups, then slap a big fine on the company. Since this ban eliminates consumer choice, there are actually very few points of mediation between the government and potential offenders (limited to business owners). However, jumping from no regulation to ban at breakneck speed leaves little room for consumers or businesses to change their habits, and will likely lead to ill will and resistance, even amongst those who agree with the cause in principle.
  2. Tax: I think taxes are the best solution here. No one likes taxes, and they may not affect the type of person who goes into a coffee shop for a $4 mocha latte, but that fact is that taxes get things done. Would you bring your favorite coffee mug to get coffee on the way to work if it meant saving a dollar a week? I would. And for all those people who don’t want to conserve and would rather pay the tax, that money can go to recycling or waste management programs to otherwise deal with the problems caused by disposable food containers.
  3. Deposit: Deposits sound nice in principle, but when was the last time anyone ever turned in a can for deposit? There is a program in my state, but I’m too lazy to do it, so I just put my recycling out and expect nothing in return. Plus, because most of the waste in question here is food waste, the return system would have to be handled within the place of business, which would not only inconvenience people grabbing food and leaving, but the businesses that now have to collect and store trash in a new way, as well as issue deposit refunds. I actually think this would be more burdensome than an outright ban, and would eventually fail insofar as it would not affect any real change.

How would you handle Toronto’s current trash problem?

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October 15, 2008 at 11:02 am


1 Daniel Einspanjer September 18, 2008 at 11:01 am

I don’t know, the idea of a deposit system doesn’t sound that bad to me.

Picture going in to Starbucks and being offered the choice of filling your own container or putting a dollar deposit down on a Starbucks ceramic mug. You can either bring it back in for refilling on a subsequent visit or you can turn it in to them for a dollar refund.

I think that would be a great option for the consumer, the company, and the environment.

2 slajax September 18, 2008 at 12:41 pm

I lived in Toronto for about 5 years and I am happy to see that they are finally doing something about the excess waste which consumes that city. I moved to Vancouver, and I’ve never felt more healthy.

3 Who Me? September 18, 2008 at 12:51 pm


Taxes will just go unnoticed. How much are they going to tax? 10%, 20% …? Whatever is reasonable will go unnoticed.

Refunds? How many people go for refunds?


It will hurt in the beginning, but like everything else, people will adjust.

Let the Big Guys (the coffee makers & sellers, and the City) fight amongst themselves.

4 bart September 18, 2008 at 1:04 pm

Why doesn’t the government incinerate itself instead, rather than terrorising us with this environmentalist non-sense. It’s yet another money grab and an attempt at avoiding the building of additional infrastructure (land-fills or incinerators).
And how does consumer waste compare to industrial waste? Why are they going after us and our money again? When is Miller’s term over?
Incidentally, the Toronto Star reporting on the issue is the same company that has been leaving its paper on my doorstep at 6am in the morning as a promotion (for free). I don’t read it, it goes straight to the blue bin. Does that strike you as waste? Circulation is impossible to reach, I gave up after 30 mins on hold.
Stop being hypocrites, people! I agree that we should care for the environment but don’t dress up your money grabs in lofty words and ideas!

5 ozziedog September 18, 2008 at 3:24 pm

Sounds like a classic David Miller idiocy. So if I want a cup of coffee, I have to walk around with a mug? What about all the water wasted on cleaning these mugs? Instead, it would make more sense to make all fast food trash (cups, containers, napkins etc.) compostable. Then all the trash from the fast food places could go straight to making dirt and methane. Oh and by the way, ! HATE DAVID MILLER!

6 Vlad Malik May 28, 2010 at 11:24 am

Not too long ago, people said “So if I want to shop, I have to walk around with a special bag?” Now, most people have reusable bags that have been designed to be small and light.

People will get used to bringing a mug, but I don’t think that’s necessarily a good idea. Foldable, light mugs are possible. Foldable cups have been around for decades and can be improved. A hefty deposit on a glass mug may make sense. For others, the option of a compostable cup may be better.

Regarding water waste, I hear this often about many things. However, it takes more water to make a cup (imagine the whole industrial process) than it is to wash it. According to, it takes 10 liters of water to make 1 sheet of paper. Similarly, it takes way more water to make a plastic water container than there is water in it. In addition, imagine all the other chemicals, fuels, etc. used in the production and transportation, and in turn all the water used to produce those.

7 Deb Kolaras September 18, 2008 at 3:49 pm

Love the post and the thoroughness. Digging it!

8 Kim September 18, 2008 at 5:44 pm

Aloha – Interesting post. We have a huge trash problem where I live (we are considering shipping it across — an ocean — to the west coast and burying it there). I’d like to read the plan – how are they planning on achieving the 70% reduction?

9 2Renew September 18, 2008 at 6:54 pm

Great idea Toronto – I hope this flies. It just takes one small step to make a large improvement, whatever that step is. This will certainly get attention. People don’t conform to change easily.

10 Flint Driver September 19, 2008 at 2:56 am

Good. I’m sick of seeing their garbage filled tractor trailers on I-69 coming to Michigan to dump their trash.

11 tracey September 24, 2008 at 1:48 pm

There is always an alternative natural solution and it should be up to the company to impletment this, look at The Lush, they package all their gift boxes using popcorn inside to protect the contects…absolutely brill, 100% organic and bio degradable

12 25p September 25, 2008 at 11:08 am

In Europe, street vendors of mulled wine etc at christmas sell their products in nice porcelain mugs. You pay more, then you get most of it back for taking your mug back to them. Or, if you like the mug, you keep it. Simple.

13 meldymel September 26, 2008 at 3:08 am

My vote is on the BAN.

A Ban is the most effective way to
1. prevent the production of disposable cups
2. avoid taxation burden on the consumer
3. promote a clear message of environmentalism unlike taxation, that gets mixed up in the accusation that the ‘government is lining their pockets with my hard-earned money’

4. avoid problems of recycling of a product that is non-biodegradable or expensive to recycle.
5. a top-down approach to reducing waste that is fast, effective, enforce-able.

Although the other idea of deposit-and-recycle system actually fixes itself. The lazy people who can afford to *not* bring their own cups are further not rewarded when they don’t return their disposable cup for a deposit. If you set up “cup racks” on garbage cans then homeless or enterprising people can collect the cups and return them for a deposit. See the Vancouver garbage can at . It keeps the “recycling system humming”.

14 Damien November 22, 2009 at 11:20 am

Hey guys, I might have a small answer to this increasing problem. I found this cup called the Hookturn BYO Reusable Coffee Cup in my local cafe in Melbourne Australia.
Its Designed to look exactly like a bad take-away coffee cup, so you dont feel like your drinking from a kiddies cup.
Its made completely from Silicone so its light and flexible and they say will withstand 2000C heat. It’s made by a company called Hookturn Industries. It kept my coffee really warm but was cool to the touch. It’s awesome i love it. You can buy it online for only $10 bucks!. I’m telling all my friends.

15 Norman April 18, 2010 at 11:05 am

The city managers in all developed countries are living in a state of denial. The solution to waste and global pollution is staring at them and they have blinkers on. The simple solution to the problem is for Star Bucks and their ilk to provide their own cups instead of fancy paper cups with logos or BYO (Bring Your Own). This decision does not need any major discussions – it a pure environmental/logistical decision by the city to reduce costs. But you can bet that Star Bucks will try and influence this by using $ower so that they can maintain or increase profits. This is where the mom and pop stores should compete and where the city should encourage and motivate local talent.

16 Pragmatic Professional September 4, 2010 at 2:22 pm

Toronto, where they call out the army to clear snow,because it snowed,where they are the center of the universe- just ask them ,and now this. really,Toronto …Get A Life!

17 sonofman November 29, 2010 at 9:42 pm

Knowing the system of things in place, governments are more likely to create problems to reap profits. So “A levy or tax on the items” is the solution for them in the end. Other options are to give hope.

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