From plastic to aluminum: A cup swap at 2 sports venues

Denver Nuggets mascot shows off a new aluminum cup

Denver Nuggets mascot, Rocky, shows off Ball’s new aluminum cup, which launched at Denver's Pepsi Center this fall as a replacement for plastic cups. (Ball Corporation handout)

Picture it, you’re at a sporting event with friends and family. Then someone suggests getting refreshments during a timeout. Some friends leave and come back with the usual soda and perhaps a hot dog or popcorn depending on the mood. Now think of this: After you are done consuming these snacks, where does the plastic cup and paper container go? 

When it comes to concessions at professional sporting events, a rising concern has been trash and uneaten food. However, there are some franchises working to make their events not as wasteful and move past the days of paper trays and plastic cups. One such venue is Denver’s Pepsi Center. 

This fall, the Pepsi Center — home to almost all of Denver’s professional sports teams and frequent concert venue — along with the Ball Corporation and Kroenke Sports & Entertainment, launched a reusable and recyclable aluminum cup at their concession stands to replace plastic cups at the Pepsi Center. The change was part of a pilot program created by Ball in response to consumer preference for more sustainable products.

The 20 oz. cup — the first of its kind to be used at a professional sporting venue in the United States — debuted at the Denver Nuggets’ first home game of this season, against the Phoenix Suns, on Oct. 25, 2019. The Pepsi Center is also the first professional sporting venue to distribute such a cup, according to Renee Robinson, director of corporate communications at Ball. 

In a joint press statement from Ball and Kroenke Sports & Entertainment, Ball’s chairman, president, and CEO John A. Hayes said a goal of the new cup was to make a “meaningful difference on promoting sustainability in its industry.” 

Also, according to Robinson, the aluminum cup comes with many positives.

“Ball’s new aluminum cup is infinitely recyclable, meaning that it can be used, recycled and be back in use as a new cup or can in as little as 60 days,” Robinson said. 

“Aluminum beverage containers have a global recycling rate of 69% and recycling yields of more than 98%, making them the world’s most recycled beverage container.” 

Plastic has a much smaller recycling rate — 8.4% according to a 2017 report from the Environmental Protection Agency

Robinson said the Ball Corporation is a company that prides itself on making our planet a greener one, and it is doing so in multiple areas, from packaging to aerospace. That overarching goal is what inspired Ball to get this new cup made and distributed, according to Robinson. Beyond the new cup, Ball has helped lead recycling education programs and also has joined the World Wildlife Fund through their Cascading Materials Vision

CU cup
The University of Colorado Boulder also partnered with Ball to offer fans an aluminum cup replacement, which aligned with the school's upcoming plastic-free deadline. (Ball Corporation handout)

The cost of the new cups has not yet been determined, but as reported in Packaging Digest, Ball anticipates pricing to be “competitive with other sustainable cup options.” Ball general manager Sebastian Siethoff said in the article that venues are making a “conscious decision to adopt a more sustainable beverage container for their consumers.”

Currently, the aluminum cup can be found only in Colorado — at both the Pepsi Center and via the University of Colorado Athletic Department at Folsom Field. CU’s cup swap is a step toward the university’s goal of becoming plastic-free in its sports venues by 2020.

According to Robinson, Ball plans to expand the production of their cups to the other side of the United States, with a goal of launching next at Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium. The company hopes to be in other venues and facilities by the end of 2020, as well as expand their cup options. 

“We are building a dedicated cups manufacturing facility in Georgia and, when that plant is fully operational, we plan to introduce additional sizes to round out our cups portfolio and intend to expand adoption of the cups to drinking establishments, parks and recreation, colleges and universities, hospitality, restaurants, retail, business and industry,” Robinson said.

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