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Return-It has designed bins with three separate sections (for the cup, for liquid and for the lid) to reduce the number of coffee cups that end up in landfills.

Return-It

A B.C. recycler of beverage containers has launched a pilot project that hopes to find a way to recycle the millions of coffee cups that end up in landfills every week.

Vancouverites are disposing of an estimated 2.6 million cups a week, however, many of those that are thrown into recycling are contaminated with liquids, or have not been separated from their lid or sleeve – which causes problems in the recycling process and results in them being sent to landfill.

The pilot project is aimed at commercial and public buildings, since the coated paper cups are already being recycled successfully through the residential recycling program.

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“They [cups] often come with contaminants when they are put in a bin, they have liquid, disposable sticks, tea bags,” said Allen Langdon, president and chief executive of Return-It, the industry-owned not-for-profit agency that manages the recycling of beverage containers in the province. “Contamination is the main challenge,” he said.

The initiative includes equipping five downtown Vancouver locations with customized bins that clearly explain how the cup, the lid and any leftover liquid should be discarded. The instructions are meant to be easy to follow.

“We thought if we can come up with a dedicated sorting system we might be able to divert them from landfill,” Mr. Langdon said. “The struggle right now is there isn’t a consistent system for cups in commercial and public buildings.”

Coffee cups can be collected and recycled through British Columbia’s residential recycling program. But more than half of hot and cold coffee cups that are discarded as garbage in Vancouver come from industrial, commercial and institutional sources. The project’s intent is to monitor and propose a recycling solution that diverts this material from heading to landfill.

Materials – including coffee cups, lids and sleeves – gathered during the pilot will be used to determine if the fibres can be used to make other products.

Currently, Mr. Langdon said, there are few local recycling companies that can separate the paper fibre from the plastic film in the cup, but he said he expects that will change.

“Our interest is really in finding sustainable recycling solutions. We want to solve this problem and that’s really our end goal,” Langdon said, adding that they will be publishing a report of results at the end of the six-month pilot.

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Return-It decided to focus particularly on coffee cups because it is an item of interest to governments and brand owners, Mr. Langdon said.

Return-It has two prominent brands, Tim Hortons and A&W Canada, on board but is open to the possibility of working with other brands that are willing to step forward.

We have a weekly Western Canada newsletter written by our B.C. and Alberta bureau chiefs, providing a comprehensive package of the news you need to know about the region and its place in the issues facing Canada. Sign up today.

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