The five-cents-a-cup refund was being offered for one day only, from 9:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., as part of a public demonstration dubbed 'The Coffee Cup Revolution' put on by the University of British Columbia's Binners' Project.
Thousands of cups that came in were used by architecture and design students to create urban-living-themed sculptures during the day. At closing time, all 55,000 disposable cups were packed up and taken to a recycling centre.
Ken Lyotier, project leader and founder of United We Can, says the event was meant to carry a social message as well as an environmental one, and wasn't specifically meant to address the province's recycling program.
"I don't think we were even saying these should be part of a refund-deposit system. We were just saying, 'What about it? What are we doing?'" Lyotier told the CBC's Andrew Chang.
"We're chopping down half a million trees a year in Canada to provide ourselves with these disposable cups, which we ship out to the dump, and we can't afford to build to decent affordable housing for out very poorest citizens — there's something very off-kilter here."