As Toronto considers a ban on take-away cups, a Victoria College café is forging ahead on its own
An eco-friendly campus café has taken its environmental credo to the next level. In September, Caffiends, Victoria College’s student-run fair-trade coffee shop, became possibly the first Toronto retailer to completely do away with disposable cups.
Until this fall, the café used biodegradable cups for take-away orders. Now, customers have the option of lugging their own mug in, or sitting at Caffiends and enjoying their beverage in a classy ceramic cup.
Caffiends co-manager Emily Gilbert says customers haven’t balked at the ban, though a few were caught mug-less at the beginning. “Initially, some people were like, ‘Oh, I won’t get anything then,’ but that has quickly faded.”
Caffiends’ bold business move comes as City Hall debates the merits of outlawing take-away coffee cups.
Major coffee retailers are fighting the proposed ban, which Toronto city councillor Howard Moscoe first suggested in September 2008 as a way of reducing the amount of garbage going to landfill. Debate over the plan subsided during last summer’s garbage strike, but a so-called “Hot Drink Task Force” will issue a report in early November outlining Toronto’s options. Geoff Rathbone, the city’s general manager of solid waste, told the Toronto Sun that he expects the report to call for “major changes” to packaging in Ontario.
Gilbert welcomes the city’s proposed ban, but says it didn’t play into the Caffiends decision – at least not directly. “It was more due to the guttural reaction I got from seeing the waste,” she says.
Losing business was also not a major concern, says Gilbert. Because Caffiends is non-profit and run by students, its goals are different from those of the big coffee chains. “The whole idea at the café is that it’s not a business – we sell everything at almost wholesale prices,” she says. “It’s entirely community and volunteer run.” Besides not having to pay for staffing, Caffiends receives a modest levy from Vic students, and doesn’t pay rent.
Caffiends’ environmental cred doesn’t end with its no-cup policy. The café currently uses biodegradable bamboo stir sticks, but will switch to simply providing sticks of whole wheat pasta when the current supply of stir sticks runs out.
The café is also in talks with its equitable and eco-friendly supplier, ChocoSol Traders, to allow U of T students to visit Oaxaca, where the supplier is partly based. “They want to have two Caffiends staff go to Mexico and volunteer for two weeks,” said Gilbert. There, students will take part in the production of the organic, sustainable coffee the café uses.
The students will also learn about “horizontal trade,” which ChocoSol describes as “a relationship based on friendship and mutual understanding.” It’s a philosophy that the staff at Caffiends want to emulate.
“The point of the café is not just to caffeinate Victoria College students,” says Gilbert. “It’s about encouraging relationships among them.”