Tim Hortons and litter

By AKA mamma
February 06, 2009

Unsightly Success Tim Hortons organizes 125 clean-up events across Canada and posts do not litter signs in its stores and on its cup. As I have said before, the company can't do much about litterbugs, but the iconic Tim Hortons cups crumpled on the sidewalk should be a red flag to company brass.

Yes, Canadians may have an insatiable thirst for coffee, but perhaps the state of our sidewalks is a telltale sign of market saturation. Opening another Tim Hortons store may still be a profitable venture, but consumers may soon tire of the litter and "smell the coffee."

As we have already witnessed in the media, City of Toronto councillors are angry that part of the parks budget has to be used to pick up Tim Hortons cups and paper instead of improving the intended public areas. We know that TH did not dump the cups there, but unfortunately the company name is on them.

But in all honesty, litter is the visible part of the problem. The real issue is the sheer number of cups that end up in landfill, 1,000,000 a day in Toronto alone. In addition, the company serves its coffee in a porcelain cup to customers who drink their coffee in its stores, which is a step up from most fast food outlets. Tim Hortons also favours paper for its wrappers and containers, which is more environmentally friendly than styrofoam or plastic.

The company also offers the symbolic gesture of a 10-cent discount to all customers bringing their own cup.

These small gestures may make Canadians feel better about frequenting Tim Hortons, and many Canadians really don't want to know what happens to their used containers after they discard them anyway. They also don't want to question marketing copy on environmental issues, such as sentences like this one on the Tim Hortons corporate Web site, "We offer recycling and/or composting at various stores in Atlantic Canada, Ontario and most recently Quebec."

This sounds to me like Tim Hortons actually recycles and composts on the store premises. "Is this actually the case?" I asked the TH Environmental Affairs Manager. No, it means that some stores have three- and four-stream sorting stations, and sorting is done on the premises, and then the recyclables are sent off to the appropriate facilities.

However, many people would be satisfied by simply reading the words recycling and composting and not give it any further thought. (In all fairness, THs modeling responsible behaviour is a fine initiative.) Although everyone agrees that clean-up events are good all round, they are also foolproof PR.


After all, picking up other people's trash not only casts Tim Hortons in a favourable light, it also gets rid of the problem. Remember there isn't a problem if you can't see one.

If Tim Hortons is the environmental leader it claims to be, it may have to get rid of certain practices that are not environmentally friendly.


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