Dear Mayor Stewart and Council,
I’m writing today in regards to the fee placed on single-use cups on January 1, 2022. Binners’ Project strongly opposes the continuation of this fee as we have seen that it disproportionately impacts people in poverty.
Over the nearly eight years since the first Coffee Cup Revolution in 2014, Binners’ Project has positioned itself as experts in the use and recycling of coffee cups, advocating for innovative ways to include binners in reducing the amount of cups ending up in our landfills. As a result, we were disappointed in the announcement of the bylaw, and the lack of strategic inclusion of marginalized voices in its development.
As you can imagine, people in poverty experience significant barriers to participating in many types of environmental solutions given the often high cost to the individual. Additionally, poverty prohibits many from obtaining and maintaining reusable items like coffee mugs. As a result, the addition of surcharges to single-use items disproportionately impacts poor people by requiring them to pay into the system without any alternative. This means that they, almost singularly, ultimately become responsible for funding any type of mug-sharing system a business might incorporate, a system in which many will face barriers to participating.
We also know that Extended Producer Responsibility best practices do not put the onus onto the consumer to mitigate the issues related to waste. These practices acknowledge the financial responsibility ought to be on the producers of cups, many of which are large multinational corporations. In fact, research used by Staff in the development of this policy has shown that penalizing customers with fees is less effective on changing behaviour than rewarding customers with either a reduction in cost (if the customer comes with an alternative), or the option for a refund.
While the report coming to you on Wednesday acknowledges additional work needs to take place over the next 18 months, any potential mitigating solutions to these equity issues will take too long to create and implement, while in the meantime people in poverty will continue to pay into a system that will otherwise never benefit them. This 18 month time period before a report-back from Staff will cause more harm to this already marginalized and vulnerable community.
Additionally, what’s missing from this report are the thousands of voices of people in poverty who are often politically invisible. They are not the ones calling and emailing complaints in part because they have repeatedly been subject to disenfranchisement by inequitable policies. The absence of these voices in the development of this policy was a great oversight. The absence of them now in your email boxes is not a measure of their apathy – it’s a measure of their learned helplessness.
There is no national precedent for a cup fee in reducing waste. When changes like this are proposed, evidence and community informed best practices need to be utilized to make sure that innovations we make as a city serve as an example for others around the world to replicate. The length of time spent on developing this policy was not enough to ensure that it was done well, with both an equity and environmental framework in mind. We urge Council to remove the fee on single-use cups while more innovative and equitable solutions are determined in the interim.
Thank you for your attention to this matter – I will be speaking at the Standing Committee meeting on Wednesday, and look forward to discussing this further then.
Director, Binners’ Project
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