Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Dirty old town

The snow is melting and you are trying to get out for some walks around the nicer parts of your hometown.

And you see Tim Horton's garbage here, there...

and everywhere.

Tim Horton's likes to put words in our mouths, saying things like "Our customers know that the litter isn't our fault... but they would like us to be part of the solution."

I think it is their fault because they aren't willing to be an effective part of the solution. They keep saying that education is the answer (see below posts), when we can already tell from walking around and seeing Tim Horton's litter everywhere, that education isn't effective.

What would be more logical is to assume that people ARE going to litter, and figure out ways to get the garbage back up off the streets - which is where something similar to a "bottle return" system comes in. If Tim Horton's offered a $25.00 gift card for their own stores, for each clear plastic garbage of Tim Horton's garbage that a person picked up off the street, then they really would be part of the solution.

Monday, March 23, 2009

fighting litter with 9 point font

Somewhere on this blog... while saying that I couldn't figure out what Tim Horton's educational campaign against litter consisted of (ie what were they doing actually?), I wrote something like "and if you think about the traditional dark brown tim horton's cup, there sure as hell isn't any Do Not Litter message written on that cup."

Well I was wrong. I picked one of those up off the road today to take a look at it, and sure enough, there's a do not litter message at the very bottom of the cup (click on the photo to enlarge a bit so that you can actually read the text).

Different Tim Horton's representatives have stated that while happy to fight littering, the company will only use educational means to do so. They will not consider any means that involve money.

For example:

In the meantime, the New Brunswick Solid Waste Association says consumers should be forced to pay a deposit when buying beverages in disposable cups.

[Tim Horton's rep] Johnston rejected that idea.

"We don't need another deposit system," he said. "Our industry and our communities can deal with it without taxing the consumer any more than they already are."

And this one:

Greg Skinner, a Tim Hortons spokesman, says the chain already recycles cups in the Moncton area and is willing to talk to anyone about doing likewise elsewhere. But a deposit-return system isn't in the cards. "It's a tax, and we don't see a tax as a way of stopping litter," says Skinner. "The key is education, letting people know that it's unacceptable."


My thought is that - as any Canadian who walks through his/her city can see from all the Tim Horton's cups on the roads - the educational campaign against litter isn't working. Especially not the highly visual "please don't litter" message they put at the very bottom of their cups.

I would have loved to have been in the room when they were figuring out what size of font to use for the littering message. The conversation would have been something like this:

Okay, so we have to be able to say that we're doing something about litter, but not give the impression that we actually have a littering problem."

So like a message on the cups?

Yeah - but subtle - like "Hey customers, don't litter, but if you do no big deal, because it isn't really that big a problem."

So what do you think... I can zip it all the way down to like 5 point font if you want?

No... five will make it look like we REALLY don't want to deal with this... it has to be mildly respectable, but still not very noticeable.

So eight? nine?

Do me up a nine and we'll see how it looks.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

The Anti-Idling Zone Conspiracy

Up until I read about what I now call the Idle Free Zone Conspiracy, I was indifferent to Tim Horton's. An almost hyper-green person, I wasn't even up to speed on the disposable cup issue, and the fact that all those hundreds of millions of Tim Horton's cups just go into landfills every year.

The Idle Free Zone Conspiracy was covered very briefly by the CBC in August 2008, and then quickly died and no one is talking about it. I think it DOES need to be discussed however, and I think people have to decide if Tim Horton's was really acting as an honest corporate citizen in this matter, or if they were acting just like the tobacco companies throughout most of the 20th century, paying for research that said that smoking doesn't cause cancer, despite all the evidence to the contrary.

Before I get to the main facts of the "case" - we need to cover some background material:

a)We all know that C02 emissions from vehicles cause climate change, but we're starting to lose sight of how bad air pollution actually is. A bit of a summary of air pollution research is midway through this post, but here's some local (for Ontarians) info: For 2005, the Ontario Medical Association attributed 5800 deaths in southern Ontario to smog. In 2007, Toronto Public Health found that vehicle emissions ALONE cause 440 deaths per year in Toronto, with an additional 1700 hospitalizations, and 1200 acute bronchitis episodes suffered by children.

b) To educate people about the dangers of idling, the federal government's Natural Resources Canada ministry runs the Idle Free Zone website.

c) Companies like Tim Horton's, which are heavily dependent on drive-through traffic, have been coming increasingly under fire by environmentalists for the effect of their drive-throughs on the environment and on air pollution.

So that's the background. And before I lay out the gist of the conspiracy, here is the CBC story on the topic (their radio newscasts covered it as well), and partial coverage from the Toronto Star regarding the study funded by Tim Horton's that I'm angry about:
CBC: Feds revamp stance on idling after meeting with drive-thru group

Toronto Star: Drive-through ban eyed for city vehicles

Okay, here goes... The Idle Free Zone Conspiracy:

a) Before it was changed, the Idle Free Zone website showed images of young children coughing due to plumes of emissions from idling cars, told drivers to limit their idling to 10 seconds, and gave detailed information on the effects of C02 emissions on people's health.

b) Because the Idle Free Zone website was being used by anti-idling community groups to do awareness raising events about the dangers of drive-throughs, Tim Horton's obviously needed to get rid of it.

c) Tim Horton's contracts with a group called RWDI Consultants in Guelph. Tim Horton's ask them to run a study to determine which is worse for the environment - idling in the drive-through line, or parking your car, walking into the restaurant, and restarting your car again upon leaving.

d) RWDI's Tim Horton's funded study finds that it is better for the environment to idle your car than it is to park and walk into the restaurant. See more on this below.

e) Tim Horton's hands this study to the Canadian Restaurant and Foodservices Association and sends them to meet with Natural Resources Canada about the Idle Free Zone website.

f) The CRFA meets with Natural Resources Minister Gary Lunn on Feb. 7, 2008.

g) On Feb. 8, Lunn sends out an email asking his staff to take down the Idle Free Zone website.

h) Five months later, a watered down version of the website is put back up, without any of the strong language / images /stats that had been used previously (and the "its safe to idle" timeframe was raised from 10 seconds to 60 seconds).

AND SOOO... a government website which was meant to protect the health of Canadians is altered so that it doesn't impinge upon Tim Horton's drive-through revenues.

And let's talk about the Tim Horton's funded study by RWDI: In the Toronto Star article, dated Feb 15, 2008, Tim Horton's spokesperson Nick Javor says that the study will be peer-reviewed and published that spring (ie a year ago now). I've been in touch with RWDI, and a year later, this study is NOT published, it has NOT been supported (through the peer-review process) by any other experts in this field, NOR is it available to the public.

SO - one single unpublished study was used to strike down one of our government's websites. That's bull&*%t. I mean, how did they do this study? What time of day did they run it? At 9:00pm when cars were probably whipping through the drive-through line fairly quickly? What types of cars did they use to study the emissions caused by idling - super efficient Hondas and Toyotas like the Honda Fit? Did they do the study in the fastest Tim Horton's drive-through in Ontario? OR did they run in at some of the location in Oshawa where the line is so long that people sit idling on the street, slowing down street-traffic, before even getting into the Tim Horton's lot?

It's bad enough that the study found exactly what Tim Horton's wanted them to find (that drive-throughs are great for the environment). It's bad enough that a year later this study still isn't published. It's bad enough that NO OTHER RESEARCH IN THE WORLD supports the RWDI study - but what really pisses me off is that Our Government Fell For It!!!

And so... I'm boycotting Tim Horton's. You can't fund companies to perform suspicious research, hand the research to your attack dog lobby group, and strike down a website that was supposed to protect my health, and have my money.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Who's responsible for what?

When you're trying to be angry with them, it is very deflating to speak to Tim Horton's employees face-to-face. They're so nice - it's hard to keep your "Hulk Angry" rage going.

Today, for the 2nd time this week, I decided to get exercise by going for a walk around town, and decided to combine this with picking up Tim Horton's litter on the side of the streets. The first time, I picked up a garbage bag (plus some overflow into a 2nd bag) in just over half an hour. Today I picked up the same amount but in about an hour and a half. Both times I took the garbage into Tim Horton's locations (different one each time) and spoke with the manager.

You kind of want to be confronted with Dick Cheney when you're angry about something like the lack of recycling of cups, the litter, the "anti-idle zone" conspiracy. Instead you just meet a good person trying to do their job. In a way it's annoying. If you haven't seen this Cheney joke before, click on the picture to enlarge it. It's pretty funny.

Anyway - after talking with two local Tim Horton's managers, I've been mulling over the "we're not responsible for what our customers do with their coffee cups" line. Sure - in a way that's true. But I think responsibility still lies on Tim Horton's shoulders for two reasons:

  • Scale - The fairly well known study in Nova Scotia, which found Tim Horton's accounting for 22% of all roadside litter in that province (with McDonald's a distant 2nd at 10%), probably doesn't tell the whole story. My city has about 7 Tim Horton's locations for a population of 30 000. I think we're way over 22% here - and I bet that is true for GTA regions like Durham & Oakville as well. If your company accounts for that much garbage - you should feel some corporate responsibility for the recovery of that garbage.

  • Lack of effective incentives to properly dispose of cups - Tim Horton's standard line is that they will engage in educational means of telling people not to litter (ie in commercials and messages on their cups). Maybe I'm blind, but I really don't remember ever seeing "don't litter" Tim Horton's ads... and that standard dark brown Tim Horton's cup sure as hell doesn't have any "don't litter" text on it. If Tim Horton's was really serious about preventing their cups from ending up on city streets, they'd provide monetary incentives to avoid disposable cups in their first place (i.e. more than just a .10c savings for using a travel mug) and they'd give gift cards to people who brought in clear plastic bags full of cups they'd picked up off the side of roads.

Additionally, I think Tim Horton's should come out and set themselves the goal of selling more "travel mug" coffees than they do disposable cup coffees - and make public the action steps they intend to take to reach that goal.

The disposable cup really has to be considered a nightmare - come on... 45 minutes of usefulness between its birth when a forest is cut down, and its death when it joins hundreds of millions of others (in one year in one province alone) heading to a landfill.

Idle Free Zone Conspiracy - Form Letter

Use this form letter if you simply want to ask Tim Horton's about their role in striking down the Idle Free Zone website for five months, and having much of the information on the site changed when it did finally go back up.

You could adapt this and send it instead (or additionally) to Lisa Raitt, who is the current Minister of Natural Resources Canada. The point would be to ask why then-minister Gary Lunn would change the Idle Free Zone website based on one unpublished study, and maybe, ask her to change it back.


Paul D. House
Chairman Tim Horton's Inc
874 Sinclair Rd.
Oakville, Ontario L6K 2Y1

March 23, 2009

Dear Sir:

Since August 2008, when CBC Radio and CBC Online covered Tim Horton's involvement in striking down the Idle Free Zone website hosted by Natural Resources Canada, I have been struggling with whether or not your company's role in this matter was that of an ethically responsible corporate citizen. I would very much appreciate it if you could read over my understanding of this affair, and explain to me why it isn't equatable to tactics of tobacco companies throughout much of the 20th century, when they consistently paid for research and advertising which denied that smoking caused cancer, despite persuasively strong evidence to the contrary.

The facts as I understand them are as follows. I have largely drawn my information from CBC Radio stories from August 2008, and from an August 11, 2008 article on CBC Online titled Feds revamp stance on idling after meeting with drive-thru group.

a) In order to warn Canadians about the dangers of idling, Natural Resources Canada hosts a website called the Idle Free Zone. Along with images of children coughing due to plumes of vehicle emissions, there is information regarding the effects of vehicle emissions on personal health, and a recommendation that Canadians should only idle their cars for 10 seconds.

b) Concerned that information on the Idle Free Zone website might lead Canadians to think twice about using a drive-through, Tim Horton's begins searching for a way to convince Natural Resources Canada that information on the site should be changed.

c) Tim Horton's contracts with RWDI Consultants in Guelph. Tim Horton's asks RWDI to run a study to determine which is worse for the environment - idling in the drive-through line, or parking your car, walking into the restaurant, and restarting your car again upon leaving.

d) RWDI's Tim Horton's funded study finds that it is better for the environment to idle your car than it is to park and walk into the restaurant.

e) Tim Horton's gives this study to the Canadian Restaurant and Foodservices Association and sends them to meet with Natural Resources Canada about the Idle Free Zone website.

f) The CRFA meets with Natural Resources Minister Gary Lunn on Feb. 7, 2008.

g) On Feb. 8, Lunn sends out an email asking his staff to take down the Idle Free Zone website.

h) Five months later, a watered down version of the website is put back up, without any of the strong language / images /stats that had been used previously (and the "its safe to idle" timeframe was raised from 10 seconds to 60 seconds).

Given this chain of events, I fail to see why the lesson learned should not be that a government website meant to protect my health, was brought down unfairly by your company.

In a Feb. 15, 2008 Toronto Star article titled Drive-Through Ban Eyed for City Vehicles, your spokesperson Nick Javor stated that the RWDI study would be peer-reviewed and published that spring (ie spring 2008, a year ago now). I've been in touch with RWDI, and a year later, this study is not published, it has not gone through the peer-review process, and it is not available to the public.

I happen to be aware that a university student who bases an essay around an unpublished study (peer-reviewed or not) will receive a failing grade. I also happen to be aware that in the world of academic research, a body of evidence, drawn from dozens, if not hundreds, of different studies, must be available before consensus is formed on specific issues. I am therefore extremely confused by the ability of one single unpublished study to strike down a federal Canadian website.

While it is common for researchers to keep their studies private before publication, in this case I think RWDI's study should be available to the public. I would be very interested in RWDI's methodology. For example, what time of day was the study run? What types of cars were used to calculate the emissions caused by idling? Was the study done at a Tim Horton's location with ample parking or with insufficient parking? Was the study done at a Tim Horton's location where the Tim Horton's lot is quite large, or was it run at locations like those in Oshawa where the drive-through line spills onto city streets delaying traffic and causing non-Tim Horton's traffic to be forced to idle as well?

I have at my disposal any number of articles regarding the effect of vehicle emissions on human health. In 2007 for example, Toronto Public Health published Air Pollution Burden of Illness from Traffic in Toronto. They found that vehicle emissions alone (not general smog which could also come from factories) cause 440 deaths per year in Toronto, with an additional 1700 hospitalizations, and 1200 acute bronchitis episodes suffered by children. The air pollution stakes are very high, and it startles me that the Idle Free Zone website, which had recommended that vehicles only idle for 10 seconds, ups that recommendation all the way to 60 seconds on the basis of an unpublished study.

And so, I would be very grateful if your office could explain Tim Horton's role in striking down the Idle Free Zone website. At present, it strikes one as both suspicious and un-Canadian.

Yours truly,

Ask them to change - the form letter

Feel free to copy this letter and send it with your signature to any of the Tim Horton's executives listed on this blog. Remember to reformat the endnotes using the superscript function found in your Microsoft Office (or Open Office) Format area (format - font, or format - character in Open Office).


Use this letter if you want to rant at them both on the air pollution issue stemming from drive-throughs, and the recycling / littering problem.


Paul D. House
Chairman Tim Horton's Inc
874 Sinclair Rd.
Oakville, Ontario L6K 2Y1

March 19, 2009

Dear Sir:

In recent months I have come to be very concerned that fundamental aspects of the Tim Horton's business model have grave consequences for the personal health of Canadians, and for the planet in general.

My concerns are focused in two areas: the air pollution caused by drive-throughs, and the negative aspects of the disposable coffee cup - which include the trees cut down and energy used to create the cups, the fact that most Tim Horton's cups are not recycled, but end up in landfills, and the fact that the very disposability of the cups naturally leads them to be thickly layered along the sides of highways and streets throughout Canada.

In this era of IPCC reports, free screenings of An Inconvenient Truth, reports of massive C02 emissions leading to increased acidity of the oceans, killing marine life and destroying fish stocks, air pollution has very much taken a back stage to climate change. A thorough search of current air pollution research shows however that air pollution is having a disastrous effect on the health of Canadians. The Ontario Medical Association has cited the number of deaths in southern Ontario, due to smog, at 5800 for 2005(1). Toronto Public Health has found that 440 premature deaths per year in Toronto are tied directly to traffic pollution, with an additional 1700 hospitalizations. They also find air pollution from traffic causing children 1200 acute bronchitis attacks per year(2). Other studies have found that children living in smoggy areas lose 1% of their lung capacity every year(3); that pregnant women who live for as little as a month in a high smog area are three times as likely to have a baby with a physical deformity as women living in healthier areas(4); that children living within a quarter mile of a freeway have an 89% higher risk of developing asthma than those who live a mile away(5).

Rest assured that I am aware of the study, funded by your company and used to strike down the “Idle Free Zone” website hosted by Natural Resources Canada(6), wherein RWDI Consultants in Guelph found that more C02 emissions are caused by parking your car, walking into a fast-food restaurant, and then restarting your car again upon leaving, than are caused by idling your car in the drive-through. However, I am also aware that over a year later this study is not available to the public, and that it has been neither peer-reviewed or published in either an academic or trade journal. I am also aware that a university student who bases an essay around a non peer-reviewed and unpublished research study will receive a failing mark, and that until the RWDI study undergoes the peer-review process, it qualifies less as science than it does as rumour.

In short, I believe that the indirect costs of drive-through restaurants include not only greenhouse gas emissions and climate change, but also childhood asthma, increased mortality of senior citizens, and generally poor air quality for Canadians. I also believe that the best way to mitigate the dangers of drive-throughs is to decrease their attractiveness by the levying of stiff government taxes upon drive through items, making customers prefer to park and walk into the restaurant than to idle for extended periods in the drive-through line.

The second issue – that of the disposable cup – has especially been on my mind of late as spring has come to Ontario and Tim Horton's coffee cups are rising through the melting snow to be commonplace along the streets of my city. In an Oct. 21, 2005 article in Maclean's Magazine(7), which reported on Tim Horton's accounting for 22% of all the roadside litter in Nova Scotia (with McDonald's a distant second at 10%), your spokesman, Greg Skinner, implied that Tim Horton's should not be responsible for what customers do with their disposable cups after their use. He also stated that Tim Horton's would not contemplate any anti-littering measures which would amount to a tax on their products (ie raising prices on disposable cups in order to pay for something similar to a “bottle return” system). Indeed, he said that education alone (presumably with “do not litter” messages written on the coffee cups) was the way to prevent people from dropping their disposable cups onto sidewalks and roadways.

Let me say that all of the Tim Horton's cups and lids along the streets and highways of Canada bear emphatic proof that “education” is not an anti-littering solution. The disposability of your cups leads them to become black marks on the faces of Canadian communities, and an economic burden which your company transfers to municipalities to clean up. Additionally, it is extremely troubling that in all of Canada, your cups are only recycled in a handful of cities, namely Moncton, NB and Windsor, ON. Everywhere else, to a tune of hundreds of millions of cups each year in Ontario alone(8), Tim Horton's cups add to the already highly stressed state of Canadian landfills.

To answer questions about corporate responsibility with oblique references to “education” is not acceptable. In the 21st century, the stakes are too high for this, especially from a company which takes pride in its reputation as being quintessentially Canadian.

Tim Horton's must take ownership of the problems posed by its disposable cups, and the following are my suggestions:

a) Immediately launch a rewards system for the return of disposable cups to your locations. For example, in return for one clear plastic garbage bag of Tim Horton's cups and lids, people receive a $25.00 Tim Horton's gift card.

b) Strongly encourage the use of travel mugs by offering a significant price advantage for the use of personal mugs. A large coffee in a disposable cup should be at least .50cents higher than a large coffee in a travel mug.

c) Expand your recycling capabilities. Disposable cups must be diverted from landfills, and having only a handful of recycling facilities across the entire breadth of Canada is not good enough. At your own expense – not the expense of cash strapped municipalities – you must create disposable cup recycling capabilities not only in every province, but in every large metropolitan area.

Ronald Wright, in his 2004 work A Short History of Progress, wrote:

If civilization is to survive, it must live on the interest, not the capital, of nature. Ecological markers suggest that in the early 1960s, humans were using about 70% of nature's yearly output; by the early 1980s, we'd reached 100%, and in 1999, we were at 125%. Such numbers may be imprecise, but their trend is clear - they mark the road to bankruptcy(9).

The current Tim Horton's business model, appropriate in the political climate of the 1960s when the chain was founded, is no longer appropriate today – it is, without hyperbole, threatening our survival as a species.

Thank you for your time,



1. Ontario Medical Assocation. (2005). The illness costs of air pollution: 2005-2026 health and economic damage estimates. (OMA Publication ISBN 0919047548). Retrieved August 1, 2008 from http://www.oma.org/phealth/ICAP2005Summary.pdf

2. Toronto Public Health. (2007). Air pollution burden of illness from traffic in Toronto: Problems and solutions. Retrieved August 1, 2008 from http://www.toronto.ca/health/hphe/pdf/air_pollution_burden.pdf

3. Gauderman, W.J., Avol, E., Gilliland, F., Vora, H., Thomas, D., Berhane, K., et al. (2004). The effect of air pollution on lung development from 10 to 18 years of age. New England Journal of Medicine, 351(11), 1057-1067.

4. Ritz, B., Yu, F., Fruin, S., Chapa, G., Shaw, G.M. & Harris, J. (2002). Ambient air pollution and risk of birth defects in southern California. American Journal of Epidemiology, 155(1), 17-25.

5. Gauderman, W.J., Avol, E., Lurmann, F., Kuenzli, N., Gilliland, F., Peter, J., et al. (2005). Childhood asthma and exposure to traffic and nitrogen dioxide. Epidemiology, 16(6), 737-743.

6. Feds revamp stance on idling after meeting with drive-thru group. CBC News Online, August 11, 2008. Retrieved from http://www.cbc.ca/health/story/2008/08/11/ot-drivethru-080811.html

7. Hawaleshka, D. (2005). The cups runneth over. Maclean's, Oct. 21, 2005. Retrieved from http://www.macleans.ca/article.jsp?content=20051024_114048_114048

8. Tax On "Coffee Cup Recycling" Eyed & Decried. City News Online, May 11, 2007. Retrieved from http://www.citynews.ca/news/news_10916.aspx

9. Wright, R. (2004). A Short history of progress. Toronto: House of Anansi Press, p. 129.

Tim Horton's - Contact & Financial Information

Here's a bit of financial information (from Hoovers) for Tim Horton's. Their net income for 2008 was well over $200 million, so they should certainly be able to spend a bit more on their efforts to create recycling facilities for their cups:

Incidentally - since they are a public company - you can find all of Tim Horton's annual reports and financial statements on SEDAR.

You can find a little bit of biographical information about Tim Horton's executives on their about us page.

However, if you have the time and inclination, you can find complete lists of Tim Horton's executives and their board of directors, and more detailed financial information, in the full version of Hoovers. To get this however, you will have to go use a public computer at your local university (first checking to see that your local university subscribes to the Hoover's database).

Key Numbers
Company Type: Public (NYSE: THI; TSX Venture: THI)

2008 Sales (mil.): $1,674.0
2008 Total Net Income (mil.): $233.2

Here is some contact information for Tim Horton's executives, should you be interested in writing to each of them:

The main offices are here:


Tim Hortons Inc.
874 Sinclair Rd.
Oakville, Ontario L6K 2Y1, Canada
Phone: 905-845-6511
Fax: 905-845-0265

US Office
4150 Tuller Rd., Unit 236
Dublin, OH 43017  
Phone: 614-791-4200
Fax: 614-791-4235
Toll Free: 888-601-1616

Key People
Chairman: Paul D. House
EVP and CFO: Cynthia J. Devine
President, CEO, and Director: Donald B. (Don) Schroeder