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Single-Use Items vs. City Streets: How to Reduce and Recycle in the Urban Arena

150 disposable cups were thrown away every minute in France in 2016, and only 1% of these were recycled. The biggest problem facing city sidewalks today might be trash from single-use food service items. How can we reduce and reuse in the urban arena? How do we integrate sustainability into this disposable culture, starting with...

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Date

March 14, 2018

150 disposable cups were thrown away every minute in France in 2016, and only 1% of these were recycled. The biggest problem facing city sidewalks today might be trash from single-use food service items. How can we reduce and reuse in the urban arena? How do we integrate sustainability into this disposable culture, starting with on our streets?

Vancouver has a very similar problem. According to recent research,

“Paper cups make up 22 per cent of all litter found on the streets, and make up 50 per cent of all public waste bins in Vancouver. This despite the fact that Vancouver does allow residents to put coffee cups in the curbside recycling collection program as containers once they are rinsed and separated from the coffee cup lid.

Still, every week, 2.6 million coffee cups are thrown in the trash in Vancouver.”

So what can be done about the sheer amount of urban waste that is find its way into sidewalk trash cans? Catalyzed by COP21, France dealt with this overwhelming problem by banning all plastic tableware use in the country by 2020, at which point it must be made of 50% compostable materials. Even though the materials are more likely to break down, it’s likely that this won’t greatly reduce the amount of waste from urban travelers disposing of their lunch in a public trashcan. Can we prevent or reduce the number of disposable products of any form ending up in garbage cans?

The sheer volume is an economics problem. According to city spokeswoman Monica Kosmak, who is leading this initiative, while speaking to The Globe and Mail,

“About half of the litter cans are full of disposed cups and takeout containers and it costs the city about $2.5-million a year to manage.”

The city is exploring numerous options right now to tackle the problem. Reusable cup-exchange and container-exchange, where you might pick up a cup at one establishment and return it to another to be washed and reused, are one option being floated. Public garbage cans with recycling and compost built in might be another. How can a city solve its public trash problem while increasing sustainability and decreasing the cost to taxpayer? This is a problem that is ripe for creative innovation.

 

Photo by Caleb George on Unsplash