Cups and councils

City councillors in Toronto are proposing a tax on paper coffee cups. Of course I recommend ceramic whenever possible, but this is ridiculous:

Hundreds of millions of paper cups are tossed into trash bins across Ontario every year, and they all wind up in landfills. That’s why the city’s Works Committee wants to put a stop to the endless waste and is proposing a 25 to 30 cent tax on every cup of coffee that comes in either a cardboard, styrofoam or wax-lined cup.

That would be more money per cup going to the city for doing virtually nothing than goes to the farmers who grow the beans. Whatever the marginal cost is of collecting and disposing of a paper coffee cup, I’m sure it’s less than 30 cents. Such a tax would also place downward pressure on the prices shops are willing to pay for coffee. Increasing the price of cups is only going to make it harder to sell high quality, sustainably grown coffee, an unintended consequence with it’s own negative environmental impact.

None of which is to say that the paper cups that get thrown out every day aren’t a problem. A better way of addressing it might be to turn heaps of office waste paper into the cups people drink from. The story behind why this isn’t happening much is actually pretty interesting.

If you frequent Starbucks, you might have noticed that the cups there advertise being made from 10% recycled paper. For that you can thank the company’s eco-marketing. For the fact that their cups can’t be higher than 10% recycled, you can thank the federal government:

Starbucks asked its suppliers to take up a new crusade: Get the FDA’s approval for a beverage cup that contained recycled paper, not just on the outside, but the inside as well.

Says one of the company’s executive VPs:

The new regulations that the FDA had come out with required testing to be done to really infinitesimal limits. So we not only had to test to those limits but in many cases had to develop the test protocol itself, because it hadn’t been done before.

Whether or not increasing the percentage of recycled paper will prove to be cost-effective remains to be seen. What is clear is that the coffee industry is getting greener all the time quite independently of meddling city councils.

[Cross-posted on STC.]


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