As the old saying goes, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. But in the case of single-use cups, most end up in landfills.

Twelve Quebec businesses came together last year to cut down their waste, fed up with seeing their logos clogging garbage bins. 

They created a project called La tasse: a deposit-return system for reusable cups. For $5, clients at participating businesses can rent a reusable cup and return it to any business involved with the initiative. 

One year later, the project has since expanded to over 200 businesses across the province, including three McDonald’s restaurants and five IGA supermarkets.

Another 150 businesses are set to join the network in coming weeks. 

Aurore Courtieux-Boinot, an environmental consultant and co-founder of La tasse, said the point of the project is to get people to change their habits. 

Émilie Lebel, owner of a coffee shop who was part of the pilot project last August, said she’s already noticing a change in her customers’ routines at Café Perko. 

“More and more people have their La tasse or their to-go cups,” said Lebel. “I think we sell less paper cups than before.” 

Courtieux-Boino said the initiative is proof that the norm can change really quickly. 

“People are willing to change their ways of consuming, and businesses are willing to change their way of selling,” said Courtieux-Boinot. 

Once people are open to re-thinking the way they consume coffee, she said it opens the door for them to rethink the way they consume in general. 

Good for business 

Lebel also explained using La tasse makes business sense, too. 

These disposable cups cost more money than La tasse in the long run, Lebel said, because when businesses buy disposable cups, they have to pay for the paper cup, the plastic lid, and the sleeve. And when businesses buy La tasse cups, she said, they are buying them for $5 each, and are ultimately getting their money back when customers use the deposit-return system, so they are breaking even. 

“Everytime I sell something in a to-go cup, my margin is a little [lower],” said Lebel.

Cups are environmentally friendly

Courtieux-Boinot said there’s no single resolution to environmental issues, but once you succeed in having an object like La tasse being reused over and over again, making sure as many people as possible are using it, then you are heading in the right direction. 

“It seems like it’s one small object, but we actually produce billions of billions every year of this small object, and they end up in a landfill,” said Courtieux-Boinot. “There’s no reason why you should use that much resources [on a disposable cup] for a few minute’s use.” 

Because these cups don’t have any added advertisements attached to the cup, and are made of polypropylene, they’re 100 per cent recyclable in Quebec. 

Courtieux-Boinot explained they decided on using polypropylene as the material for their reusable cups because research from Recyc-Québec suggests using a cup made of this plastic for 40 to 50 uses has less of an environmental impact than a disposable cup. 

“Our main criteria was it needs to be very easy to clean,” said Courtieux-Boinot. “It needs to have a long life, and it needs to have the least environmental impact as possible.”

Looking forward 

Courtieux-Boinot said La tasse has no plans on expanding outside of Quebec, but they do plan to continue expanding within the province. 

RIght now, La tasse is a true provincial network, said Courtieux-Boinot. 

“We have people going on holiday to Baie-Saint-Paul or Îles de la Madeleine, and are coming back to Montreal to give back their cups.” 

Lebel stressed the importance of projects like this, and calls on more businesses to join.

“I think there is an environmental crisis in the world right now. And I think it is the business's responsibility to do something about it.”