"It's about garbage on the ground," says Terri Peace, "and throw-away stuff."
Peace is a community recreation programmer with HRM who coordinates the annual Pick up to Win Challenge.
The rules are simple: participants---from youth environmental action group HEAT---have two weeks to collect as many littered disposable coffee cups as possible.
Over three challenges, they've collected a total of 10,000 cups. This is year four. And after the junked cups are counted the weekend of April 26 (Earth Day is April 22, so can we call that Earth Weekend? I think so...), Peace is hoping HEAT will have tallied 10,000 this year alone.
"And it's not as hard as it sounds, as sad as that is."
The challenge is about change. Not only "people not throwing them on the ground," Peace says, "but reducing the need for these kind of cups."
The final cup count depends on how much time the 100 or so HEAT youth---it stands for Helping the Earth by Acting Together; it's a six-year-old program out of the Adventure Earth Centre in Sanford Fleming Park----can spare to look for cups.
And time, not skill, is all it takes. Look around: the snowmelt leaves more blooms of garbage than it does crocuses or budding tips of tulips.
"We've done it deliberately at this time of year," Peace says, "because of the [Tim Hortons] Roll Up the Rim to Win contest, which seems to increase the huge volumes of cups that go out and how many cups end up on the ground."
Tim Hortons customers---Peace is one, though mug-wise she goes reusable---stopped rolling March 22, but the campaign lingers in bushes, storm drains and leftover leaf piles. "We always find unrolled prizes," Peace says. "Typically they are the coffees and donuts. But someone already this year picked up an unrolled cup and won a $100 Tim Hortons Card." No wonder there are so many around---during the contest even if you go into Timmies with your own mug, you're still offered an empty disposable cup to take with you to roll.
Contrast this with the Trident Café on Hollis Street, which already doesn't stamp coffee cards for take-out drinks in paper cups to encourage people to remember their re-useables. Wednesday, for Earth Day, the Trident began charging five cents for take-out lids. Two words: Awe. Some.
Peace is all for it. "Retailers can do more to encourage reusable mugs." Her example: Tim Hortons and Robin's Donuts (which has its own Sip to Win contest) could have pull-tickets instead.
In fact, no purchase is necessary to enter Roll Up the Rim to Win; coffee-spurners can enter daily online. But given that Tim Hortons calls the contest its customers' "favourite promotion" and Lee Valley now sells a key chain gadget---the Rimroller: invented and manufactured in Ottawa and sold for $2.50 a pop---that helps people deal with the difficulty of rolling up those tight, waxy, spittle-dripping rims, it's a sure bet most customers aren't going the cup-less route to potential free donuts and triple-triples.
For three years, the cup dump (and subsequent cup fight---who could resist?) has happened outside the Adventure Earth Centre at Fleming Park. The youth---who do the Pick up to Win Challenge as one small part of their year-round leadership and environment-driven community service program---take photos of the cups and once covered the steps of the stone's-throw-away Dingle Tower with them. This year, HEAT is looking for a location that's "a little more public."
Once that's figured out...the Common? Citadel Hill? The beach at Point Pleasant Park?...anyone could, in theory, show up with his or her burden of cups. The closer the group gets to that 10,000-cup goal, the better.
Sitting with Peace in the Earth Adventure Centre, I work to multiply 10,000 cups by the 10 cents per cup Tim Hortons gives off a coffee for people who bring their own mugs (credit where credit's due: that is an incentive to not take the take-out version). Peace has a better formula---"multiply it by the $400 maximum littering fine that we have."
That's four million bucks.
But this isn't about money. And, like I said, it's not about Tim Hortons either.
"Everyone says 'Are you going to go throw those cups on Tim Hortons?' Well," Peace says, "it's not Tim Hortons throwing them on the ground, right?"
Timmies: cause of garbage or innocent bystander? Let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org.