Aluminum cups at the Superbowl not so super

Superbowl LIV lived up to the hype with an incredible come-from-behind win from Pat Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs in the fourth quarter. But what didn’t live up to the hype was the unveiling of Hard Rock Stadium’s decision to use single-use aluminum cups instead of plastic ones.  

The intention behind the move was good. Team owners, management, and their food service companies - known as concessionaires - have shown a willingness to respond to public concern about plastic pollution in the environment. But the challenge is that there is a lot of confusion as to what is actually going to solve the problem.

Meanwhile, there are big commercial interests working to harness the public’s outrage over single-use plastics and push it to “single-use something else.” Many concessionaires are being urged to use compostable packaging, bioplastics or even single-use aluminum - which all sound better than using plastic.

However, when companies switch from one single-use product to another, they’re not actually making any significant environmental gains. Often, they’re just out of the frying pan and into the fire. For example, most bioplastics, compostable and aluminum packaging, all require either comparable or more energy, water and toxic chemicals to produce than plastics. 

This is certainly the case with the single-use aluminum cups used at the Super Bowl - many of which are likely on their way to a landfill as I write this.

But the good news is that reuse wins every time. The science shows that using reusable products over disposable ones saves energy, water and natural resources. 

Not only is it good for the environment. It’s good for the bottom line. My colleague, Miriam Gordon, started Rethink Disposable in the San Francisco Bay Area. The project has now worked with more than 300 food service businesses to help them transition from single-use to reuse. And we now have hundreds of real world case studies showing that every single business has saved money by making the shift.

What’s more is that stadiums around the world are starting to embrace reuse. The Stad De France in Paris became the first stadium in the world to go reusable in 2010. In 2015, Twickenham Stadium in England created the “Twickenham Fan Cup” replacing 140,000 single-use plastic cups every event. Brazil used reusable cups for the Rio Olympics and the Soccer World Cup. And a company called Globelet in New Zealand reportedly has replaced disposable plastic with reusable cups for all the major sporting venues in the country.

Right here, in the USA, companies like R-Cup can provide these services for stadiums that are ready to make the switch, but want a full-service solution to help with inventory management, dishwashing and logistics.

Next year’s Super Bowl host can make a dent in single-use plastic by shifting to reusable cups for the fans. That would really be something to celebrate. 

*UPSTREAM is working with venues to help them transition from single-use to reuse. Learn more here.