Goodbye Plastic Cups at Concerts: “Understanding Packaging” Can Transform Food Service at Venues and Restaurants

The Understanding Packaging (UP) Scorecard is a new online resource to help concert and sports venues, restaurants, and other businesses choose plastic free and sustainable packaging for food and drinks. Trying to do the right thing can be confusing in today’s market: Is reusable stainless steel a better choice than reusable plastic for cold cups at concert venues and stadiums? Are aluminum cans better than bioplastic bottles for soft drinks at restaurants? 

Sustainably minded buyers can be overwhelmed by competing products claiming to be compostable, recyclable, low-carbon, non-toxic, etc. These choices are further complicated by the large number of materials and material combinations in food packaging and their various environmental and health impacts.

The UP Scorecard is an authoritative, free resource for businesses as well as environmental and human health advocates, which simplifies sustainable purchasing decisions. The online tool measures commonly used foodware and food packaging products with a single yardstick. Scores are provided for plastic pollution, chemicals of concern, climate, water use, sustainable sourcing, and recoverability

What’s the Most Sustainable Cold Cup to Use at a Concert Venue or Stadium?

The example below compares reusable stainless steel and reusable polypropylene (plastic) cups using the UP Scorecard tool. 

The UP Scorecard analysis makes it clear that stainless steel reusable cups are a far better choice than reusable polypropylene cups, so sustainability professionals at concert venues and stadiums would be wise to choose stainless steel. Of course, no packaging is always the best option whenever possible! There are many great initiatives venues can join like BYOBottle and the Refill Revolution, where water refill stations are provided to fans to fill their own bottles, and discounts or incentives are given on paid drink refills for those who bring their own reusable cups.

Photo by Brandise Danesewich.

What’s the Most Sustainable Soft Drink Bottle for Restaurants to Sell?

In another example using the UP Scorecard (see below), several different types of drink bottles are compared. Reusable stainless steel comes out again as the clear winner, followed by glass and aluminum. In what may come as a surprise to some, bioPET bottles come in slightly worse than regular PET bottles, with slightly higher climate impacts and water use (not to mention that bioplastics are not recyclable in most places and can contaminate regular PET plastic recycling if they are mixed in).

Transforming the Food Service Industry

The UP Scorecard has enormous potential for helping food industry professionals and others make informed decisions about the sustainability and human health impacts of foodware and food packaging products they buy. The beta version of the UP Scorecard is available now and includes data for cold cups and bottles, and when the tool launches officially on August 19, it will include many other types of packaging, including take-out containers, utensils, lids, straws, plates and trays, and more.

With its huge purchasing power, the food service industry could provide a transformative market signal to foodware and packaging manufacturers for more sustainable products that will:

  • support the development of a clean circular economy,
  • build consumer loyalty, and
  • manage against financial and reputational risks by demonstrating the industry’s commitment to protecting human and environmental health.

The tool was developed through the Single-Use Materials Decelerator (SUM’D)—an unprecedented cross-industry collaboration of leading foodservice companies, environmental NGOs, and technical experts. The collaborators include Plastic Pollution Coalition and member organizations and businesses, like Food Packaging Forum, Footprint Foundation, and Vessel Works. Also part of the effort are some of the biggest players in the global food service industry, including Aramark (U.S.), Compass Group (UK), and Sodexo (France), along with the U.S. National Restaurant Association.

When we ask companies not to use single-use plastic because it is toxic to human health and pollutes the environment, the first question they ask is what are they supposed to use instead? Now there is a tool to help companies better ‘understand packaging’ and how to choose the most sustainable option. The UP Scorecard is really exciting and could be transformative for the food service industry. It will be a huge help as we begin the cultural shift away from single-use materials to more sustainable ways to package and deliver food.”

Dianna Cohen, Co-Founder and CEO of Plastic Pollution Coalition

Join the UP Scorecard Launch Event on August 19th!

More information about the UP Scorecard and SUM’D is available on, including the opportunity to register for an online launch event on Thursday, August 19th at 9:00am PDT, 12:00pm EDT, 6:00pm CEST. 

We look forward to jump-starting a more sustainable future free of plastic pollution with you! Join our global Coalition.

Header photo: Ben Harper at Bonnaroo Music Festival, by Danny Clinch.