New Research Sounds the Alarm on Single-use Waste at Events

Study shows the benefits of switching to reusable cups

With fans returning to sporting arenas and concert-goers celebrating the return of music festivals, sustainability issues at events and venues are coming back into focus – specifically, the ever-present disposable plastic cup. 

Many attempts at solutions have been introduced, from bioplastic to reuse systems and now single-use aluminum cups. But there has been no clear scientific consensus as to which options have the greatest environmental impact and which options have the least – until now.  

Upstream commissioned this life-cycle assessment to examine the environmental impacts from single-use and reusable cups made from different materials. The analysis focused on cups used in arena and stadium events within the United States during an average event tour season.

Key Findings:

  1. Reusable stainless steel and polypropylene cups dramatically outperform the single-use cup options across all environmental metrics. These are the most sustainable options for events and venues.

  2. If you’re still using single-use cups, PET and PLA cups are better options for the climate.

  3. Single-use aluminum cups are the worst option for the climate by far. Single-use aluminum cups used 47% more energy over their life-cycle and created 86% more carbon dioxide than other single-use plastic options.

  4. The use category – transportation and washing – for the reusable cups had a minor impact for all use cases in comparison to single-use cups.

  5. The average stadium that hosts 300 events annually uses 5.4 million single-use cups – creating a whopping 63.75 tons of plastic waste. If these were replaced with reusable polypropylene (PP) cups used 300 times and then discarded, that would generate less than one ton of waste. Reusable stainless steel cups used 300 times and then discarded would generate just 1.8 tons of waste.

“With all the attention on single-use plastic, venue owners and operators and events companies are rightly looking to reduce their plastic footprint,” said Matt Prindiville, CEO for Upstream. “Unfortunately, trading one single-use product for another generally means we’re trading one set of environmental problems for others. The good news is that reuse wins for the environment every time. And companies are innovating to get us what we want and need without all the waste.”


  1. Venues and events companies should begin the process of shifting away from all single-use cups, not just single-use plastic.

  2. Single-use aluminum cups are not a sustainable option when compared to other single-use cups or reusable cups, even if most of the aluminum cups are collected for recycling.

  3. Stainless steel is the preferred choice for all venues and events locations that allow it. It can be used many more times than reusable plastic and is better for the environment and people all around.

  4. Venues and events companies can either a) create their own reusable cup systems, b) license 3rd party systems, or c) hire reuse companies to provide the service for them.

  5. There are ways to save and make money from deploying reusable cup systems, including: a) savings on disposables procurement, b) savings on waste management costs, c) savings on clean-up and litter, d) opportunities for brand partnerships and brand loyalty, and e) opportunities for tech integration, special offers and valuable customer use data.

“In this time of global environmental crisis, it is more vital than ever that we follow the science,” said Matt Doherty, Interim Executive Director of the Music Sustainability Association (MSA). “This report by Upstream is part of that science and shows the path forward for any concessionaire, tour, festival or venue who wants to do the right thing for the environment; the right thing for our future.”

“The events industry can be a leader in the new reuse economy by developing and deploying reusable cups systems,” Matt Prindiville added. “Your fans and employees will love it, and you will have taken a significant step toward zero-waste and a healthier planet.”

The following organizations join Upstream in calling for concessionaires and operators to stop sending billions of single-use cups into the waste stream: 

  • All Our Energy

  • Azulita Project

  • Ban SUP

  • Center for Environmental Health

  • Clean Water Fund and Clean Water Action

  • Community Environmental Council

  • FracTracker Alliance

  • FreshWater Accountability Project

  • Music Sustainability Association

  • Oceanic Global

  • Plastic Free Delaware


  • PlasticScore, Inc

  • Roy A Hunt Foundation

  • Reusable Solutions

  • Sea Hugger

  • Sierra Club

  • The 5 Gyres Institute

  • The Repurpose Project

  • Turtle Island Restoration Network


Original Post From Upstream

Share this post

Share on twitter
Share on facebook
Share on linkedin
Share on reddit

Join the MILLIONS combating climate change through reuse