Plastic stadium cups have been a familiar fixture at numerous sporting events and other venues for decades. Now there’s a dramatic new option with the debut of the potentially game-changing aluminum cup as an environmentally driven substitute for the ubiquitous plastic drinking cup.
It’s another repercussion of the ongoing displeasure with plastic and packaging sustainability that opens opportunities for alternative materials to supplant polymer-based formats in select applications.
Ball Corp. (Broomfield, CO) announced on August 27 it will roll out a number of pilots with major entertainment venues and concessionaires across the U.S. to replace plastic drinking cups with 20-oz aluminum cups starting in September 2019 and continuing through 2020. On September 3 it was revealed that Colorado University’s Folsom Field, the home football turf of the Buffaloes, will be the first customer to introduce the aluminum cups. That happened on gameday Saturday September 7 when the team played the Nebraska Cornhuskers (the Buffaloes won 34-31 in overtime).
The metal cup is sturdy, lightweight, durable and cool to the touch, offering consumers an enhanced beverage drinking experience, according to Ball, whose research shows that 67% of U.S. consumers say they will visit a venue more often if they use aluminum cups instead of plastic cups; 78% expect beverage brands to use environmentally friendly containers in the next five years.
Capable of custom printing with logos and graphics, the cups are a portend of things to come.
“The aluminum cup is a game-changer for the industry,” Sebastian Siethoff, Ball general manager, tells PlasticsToday. “We hope that our customers and consumers view the aluminum cup as a sustainable and easily recyclable alternative to plastic cups, which are currently a mainstay of stadiums, restaurants and beaches and often end up in the trash or on the ground.”
That’s just the kickoff. “It’s also a great solution for bars or breweries that want a non-breakable substitute for their current barware,” Siethoff says. “In the future, we expect to expand adoption of the aluminum cups at bars, breweries and retail locations, and we will also introduce other cup sizes.”
Reflects CU’s plastic-free initiative
CU Athletics has a history of sustainably-driven programs that started more than 10 years ago.
"As an Athletic Department and university, we are proud of all we have done thus far and will continue to do in reducing our carbon footprint," says CU Athletic Director Rick George. "We are thrilled to partner with Ball on this important project. Being conscious of the environment is not only the right thing to do, it sets an example for our fans and everyone else watching that they should make sustainable choices, too."
The move by CU will significantly reduce plastic use in the stadium this season, as a major step in the university's goal of becoming plastic-free in its sports venues by 2020. In 2008, CU became the first major college sports program to implement a zero-waste program in all gameday venues. Earlier this year, CU Athletics became the first university in the nation to sign the United Nations Sports for Climate Action Framework, joining other adopters such as the New York Yankees, NBA and Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics. The agreement requires entities to reduce climate impact and promote responsible and sustainable consumption.
"Sports fans are becoming more mindful about the impact their everyday choices have on the environment,” says John A. Hayes, Ball's chairman, president and chief executive officer, “and we're excited to offer them the opportunity to enjoy their favorite beverage at the game in our infinitely recyclable aluminum cup. With CU's commitment to sustainability, the university is the ideal partner for piloting our new aluminum cup at the collegiate level.”
Ball and CU hope that the new aluminum cup will inspire good recycling habits and bring more fans out to games.
Green-driven greenfield opportunity
This greenfield opportunity for aluminum is basically a “green”-driven proposition, according to Siethoff.
“Pilot customers are making a conscious decision to adopt a more sustainable beverage container for their consumers," he says. "Just like aluminum beverage cans, which have a global recycling rate of 69%, aluminum cups are easily recycled while the material retains its value throughout the process. Ball hopes this will lead to high aluminum cup recycling rates from both consumers and customers.”
When questioned, Siethoff acknowledged that Ball has not completed a lifecycle assessment of the aluminum cup versus the plastic cup. “Lifecycle assessment results vary depending on how you run the analysis. When you consider the entire lifecycle of aluminum and cans’ high recycling rates, aluminum better enables circularity and is more sustainable than plastic.”
Although recyclability is the metal cups’ greatest strength, it’s expected that some consumers won’t be doing that, and Siethoff doesn’t mind that a bit. “Given the cups’ lightweight, sturdy nature and eye-catching graphics, we recognize that some consumers may want to keep or reuse it,” he says.