At U.S. sports events, a hot dog and a beer in a plastic cup is a ritual as common as singing the national anthem. Equally as common? Those plastic cups littering the stands and streets after the game.
But now, can manufacturers are aiming to offer an environmentally friendly alternative to plastic. One announced last summer that it would offer 20-oz aluminium cups as a replacement for plastic cups at a number of indoor and outdoor sports and entertainment venues across the country.
The pilot program started on Saturday, September 7, 2019 during a football game at the University of Colorado Boulder, pitting the home team, the Buffaloes, against the Nebraska Cornhuskers (the Buffaloes won). The cups looked pretty snazzy, with the school logo of a charging black buffalo against the silver metal background.
But students also had the chance to see that the aluminium cups kept their drinks cooler while being sturdy, lightweight, and durable.
The cup has fans
Since then, millions of cups have been distributed — at the Mercedes Benz Stadium in Atlanta, the Hard Rock Stadium in Miami, the Pepsi Center in Denver, and elsewhere. The plan is to widen distribution to bars and restaurants, retail locations, parks—anywhere that people consume drinks in plastic cups.
Plastics are made of fossil fuels, and a plastic cup can take decades to decompose. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, in 2017, American landfills received 26.8 million tons of plastic. Using data from the American Chemistry Council and the National Association for PET Container Resources, the EPA measured the amount of plastic that was recycled in 2017, and found that it was less than 10%. Unlike aluminium, which is infinitely recyclable with no loss in material properties, used plastic cups cannot be recycled into new plastic cups.
Campuses make the switch
America’s college campuses are embracing the trend for reusable cups and containers. At around the same time that the University of Colorado adopted aluminium cups, Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, announced that it would eliminate all single-use plastic water and soda bottles in its dining facilities, markets, and vending machines, saving more than 430,000 bottles a year.
In 2019, all undergraduate Vanderbilt students received a free reusable aluminum Vanderbilt tumbler for use at hydration stations throughout the campus. (The hydration stations and tumblers were funded through the university’s Green Fund initiative and Campus Dining.) Graduate and professional students, faculty, and staff could buy the tumblers at a below-market price.
More valuable with time
Though aluminium cups and tumblers are recyclable, some people are choosing to hang on to them—especially those printed with logos or graphics. In fact, hundreds of used aluminium cups from the September 7 Buffaloes game have already been sold as keepsakes on eBay, for around $35 apiece.