• Posted on October 19th, 2023

Raising the Bar: Sustainable Cups for Indoor Venues

Crowd shot of a festival

Summary of environmental impacts

Cups, whether single-use or reusable, create environmental impacts. Carbon emissions are generated throughout a cup’s lifespan, primarily from the manufacturing process, but also from distribution and waste disposal. Cups are also a contributor to the global plastic waste crisis. If improperly managed at the end of use, they can create microplastics as they break down in natural environments. This can harm ecosystems and in turn cause issues throughout the food chain.

Single-use vs reusables

Reusable cups have a lower environmental impact than single-use cups when they are used more than 3 times. This is because only one reusable cup needs to be made to cater for multiple drinks. When used 75 times, reusable cups create 87% less emissions than 75 single-use cups.

It is important to keep reusable cups in use as long as possible to maximise their environmental benefits. Unbranded cups (i.e. no artist, event or venue name), deposit systems and good audience communications can help to minimise cup losses.

Material type

The best material choice environmentally for reusable cups is polypropylene (PP). These cups are hard-wearing and require comparatively lower amounts of energy and material inputs to produce. Recycled plastics (e.g. r-PET), are less suitable for reusable cups because they are less robust.

The best material environmentally for single-use cups is paper with a water-based, ‘aqueous’ lining. These cups create 75% lower emissions per pint compared to virgin plastic single-use cups They can often be managed via paper recycling streams, but it is best practice to ask your waste contractor.

Washing & transport

Reusable cups need to be washed after use, creating some additional emissions from energy use. The lowest impact option is to wash cups offsite at a facility within 50km of the venue as industrial washers are more efficient than on-site dishwashers or hand-washing. If the washing facility is over 50km away, the emissions from transporting cups outweigh the benefits of a more efficient facility.

Industry snapshot

From this study, it is estimated that at least 80 million single-use cups are used across UK venues each year. This equates to an industry spend of £4.8 million on single-use cups annually.

A venue with a 2,000 capacity, running three shows per week may use over 686,400 single-use cups at a cost of £41,184 each year.

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