Tim Hortons coffee and the environment

by JulieCraves on December 2, 2007

If you are Canadian or live in a U.S. border state, you know Tim Hortons. This coffee and donut/fast food shop completely dominates the carry-out coffee market in Canada, with over 2,700 locations serving around 3 million cups of coffee a day, leaving Starbucks a distant second. Tim Hortons is such a Canadian cultural icon that there is even a store in Kandahar, Afghanistan, serving Canadian troops. There are also 345 stores in the U.S. with a goal of 500 by the end of 2008. Tim Hortons was acquired by Wendy’s International in 1995, but divested and spun it off late in 2006, so Tim Hortons is once again an independent company.

Is Tim Hortons coffee sustainable?

The coffee
The one-sentence summary is this: Tim Hortons does not sell organic coffee, does not sell Fair Trade coffee, and does not disclose the source of its green beans.

On their web site, the company explains, “we decided against buying fair trade coffee” and instead developed a program that works directly with the growers. This program, initiated in 2005, is called the Sustainable Coffee Partnership, and is implemented and managed by the outside organization EDE Consulting, of the Neumann Kaffee Gruppe, Hamburg, Germany. The Partnership will focus on three-year projects. These will provide technical assistance and investment in infrastructure to improve productivity and quality, aid in crop diversification (such as bananas), address the needs of families, and emphasize  “the need to respect and
protect the environment.”

The 2006 Tim Hortons annual report notes that part of the purpose of the Sustainable Coffee Partnership is to “fight against poverty among the people who provide one of the Company’s most important products, and to play a meaningful role in providing for the future supply of quality green coffee.” Therefore, the sites of the projects presumably give an indication of where Tim Hortons sources some its coffee. The first project was in Guatemala, with 750 producers in the communities of Zacapa, Chiquimula and Jutiapa near the Honduran border. Other projects are with 200 producers in Colombia in northern Huila, and in Brazil.

Colombia and Brazil are two of the biggest producers of technified “sun” coffee in the world, but there is no information on how much coffee they source from which countries or how it is grown. Their annual report merely says they have “many suppliers and alternate suppliers for coffee.”


I found that one couldn’t research Tim Hortons without coming across a lot of material on the ubiquity of disposable Tim Hortons coffee cups. They evidentally paper Canada. An article in Macleans quoted a Sierra Club representative who said, “The Tim Hortons cup is easily the No. 1 recognizable item of litter in the country.” One often-cited statistic is that 22% of the litter in the province of Nova Scotia was from Tim Hortons.

Of course, it’s not really the company’s fault if people don’t properly dispose of their, and the company has started some anti-litter campaigns. Nonetheless, Tim Hortons cups contain no recycled material and are not recyclable. The company objected to a proposed tax on non-recyclable cups in Toronto, saying “We’re not a waste-management company. Our product is very price-sensitive.” They have recycling at some of their locations, but I’m unclear on whether it includes the cups. Tim Hortons apparently also offers a discount for bringing your own mug, but this customer (scroll to the bottom) discovered that the employee used a paper cup to fill the customer’s mug. I have had this happen myself on more than one occasion at different establishments, although not Tim Hortons.

Updated addition: Tim Hortons also objects to having its drive-through lanes be subjected to an anti-idling ordinance in Ontario.

Frankly, I’m not impressed with the sustainability efforts of Tim Hortons, or their products.

Photo of store by Thiesen.
Photo of cup in gutter by Kevin Steele.

Revised on March 4, 2021

Posted in Coffee and the environment,Corporate coffee

Jenny December 3, 2007 at 5:56 am

Tim Horton's coffee is great! I love it when they serve it so hot when you open the top it almost evaporates to nothing and could burn through steel! Great stuff!

Laura in NJ December 17, 2007 at 8:47 pm

The pouring coffee into a paper cup first story sounds like a similar indignity that I suffered at Staples. As an environmentally enlightened person, I habitually turn down plastic bags when offered at retail checkouts, such as the grocery store (I bring my own canvas bags), Target, and the like. Very simply, I do not need a plastic bag to carry my most likely already-overpackaged single-item purchase 30 steps to my car. (And, by the way, NEITHER DO YOU. Pass it on.)

This was the case when I purchased a single computer cable at Staples. I told the cashier at the beginning of the transaction, "I don't need a bag, thank you." However, by the transaction's conclusion one minute later, the idiot cashier had placed my single item into a plastic bag. I repeated, "I don't need a bag." So…what does the cashier do? She promptly crumples up the bag and TOSSES IT INTO THE GARBAGE CAN. I was so infuriated, I just had to speak up. I said, "Excuse me, but please don't throw away that bag. The whole point in me not wanting to take it is that I didn't want to waste it." She just stared at me, pretty much mumbled, "Whatever," under her breath, and did nothing about the bag in the trash can. Defeated, I left the store, determined to call and give the manager a piece of my mind.

It turns out I didn't have to put myself out. As luck would have it, my next stop was another merchant (a natural foods store) in that same strip mall. As I was checking out of there (no bag, thank you), I noticed the store's owner chatting with a tie-wearing guy wearing a Staples badge. I took a chance and said, "Excuse me, are you the manager at the Staples next door?" He was! Oh happy day! I proceeded to regale him with my story, and even had the opportunity to prove my point that no, you don't need a bag to walk 30 feet to your car, as I had purchased several items at the natural foods store and was miraculously able to carry them, in my own two arms. Imagine that!?

Anyway, I filled the guy's ear with about as much venom as I could spew toward his ill-informed cashier, and to his credit, he gave me an audience. He also gave me a lame excuse about her being "new." Whatever. Like that matters in this situation? He said he would speak to her about it.

I could probably go on for days and provide countless more examples of this inconsideration, but you get the idea. Maybe for Christmas this year, we could all forego the wrapping paper and at minimum, present our gifts in reusable bags. Just a thought.

BirdBarista December 17, 2007 at 9:19 pm

YES! I've had that happen to me. I've gotten to the point where I try to mention not needing a bag practically as soon as I walk up to the counter and several times through the transaction to try to prevent the clerk from reaching for the bag. It seems like once the holy bag is touched, it cannot be replaced or used for the next customer.>

I realize that a lot of clerks in big box stores are not the sharpest tools in the shed, and I am grateful there are people to fill the many near-meaningless jobs on earth, but please. This is just common sense. Insane.

stephenbartlett May 15, 2008 at 12:11 pm

Why does Tim Hortons not take corporate responsibility and develop an easily recyclable cup? Why should we have to pick up Tim Hortons garbage on our lawns, streets, and highways? How would the owner of a franchise feel if all the litter were deposited around his or her store? How would they feel about graffitti? I am tired of picking up Tim Hortons garbage. I will boycott this corporate leech until a change in policy occurs.
Buy your coffee somewhere else on June ?

BirdBarista May 15, 2008 at 4:49 pm

I live in the U.S. and am tired of looking at Tim Hortons garbage! The "roll up and win" promotions sure don't help. It makes me wonder if there isn't some corporate connection with a paper company.

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