Paul Schurink December 05, 2020
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The use of (disposable) plastic items is becoming less and less suitable for a society that focuses on sustainability and circularity. Find out how you can tackle the use of (disposable) plastic at your event.

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The use of disposable plastic items is becoming less and less suitable for a society that focusses on sustainability and circularity

Why responsible use of plastic?

The use of disposable plastic items is becoming less and less suitable for a society that focusses on sustainability and circularity. Both at the European and national level, plans are already being made to tackle the use of (disposable) plastic. Moreover, disposable plastics are also the biggest eyesore when it comes to waste at festivals.

-          Each year we use hundreds of millions of disposable plastic cups at Dutch festivals

-          99% of them do not get recycled

-          4.8 to 12.7 million tonnes of plastic ends up in our seas and oceans every year

-          43% of that is disposable plastic

-          If nothing changes, by 2050 our oceans will contain more plastic than fish

-          Plastic takes five hundred years to decompose.

-          Plastic in our ecosystem poses a danger to humans and animals. Plastic has now even been found in the air we breathe.


What can you do?

A festival that is clean and tidy is obviously more attractive. That’s not just our opinion; visitors think so too. They attach more value to clean and sustainable festivals. And of all that plastic at our events, 99% does not get recycled, so there is much room for improvement.

Unfortunately, there is no standard approach. After all, no festival or event is the same. What does apply to every festival and event is that responsible plastic use is not

limited to visitors, so let’s not forget the staff, volunteers and artists.



How do you go about it?

1.      Reduce (or better still, refuse): Is the article of plastic really necessary, or can we do without it? Consider samples, giveaways, etc.

2.      Reuse: Can we use the plastic more often? For example, by means of a deposit system.

3.      Recycle: How can we ensure high-quality recycling?


For recycling, a mono-stream (one sort of plastic) is necessary

In the table below, you can read which types of plastics are recyclable. That something is recyclable, and actually recycling it, are two different things. High-quality recycling is only possible if the waste stream is delivered to the recycling company or waste processor without excessive contamination (maximum 2%). If a cup is recycled into a new cup (instead of, for example, a kitchen cupboard), then this involves the highest quality of recycling:  circular recycling.

Success factors for waste separation are

-          Clear signage above the waste bins

-          Creating a mono-stream of one sort of plastic (ice packaging, chewing gum wrappers, beer trays, etc., can be a problem here)

-          If you want to make a new transparent cup from an existing one, as is possible with rPET, for example, then do not print the cup. This precludes a mono-stream. Embossing is a great alternative.

-          The table below gives an overview of the most used (disposable) plastics and possible measures. We are guided here by the aforementioned 3-R principle.



Recycled or recyclable?

To begin with it is important to differentiate between recycled materials and recyclable materials. Many materials are recyclable, but without concrete measures, they often end up in the incinerator. They are, therefore, not actually recycled. Furthermore, there are also cups and other products available that have already been made from recycled materials. The chart below shows how the various materials can be processed. In a circular economy, the preservation of resources is paramount, so incineration must be prevented as much as possible.



PET is currently the only material that can be recycled in a circular manner. Thus, a new cup can again be made without the addition of new raw materials. The use of rPET (recycled PET) reduces CO2-emissions by around 50%. This is therefore the most sustainable option for disposable cups, provided that the cups are actually recycled. The disadvantage of PET is that it cannot be used for hot beverages, in contrast to PP.


Polypropylene (PP)

PP is very recyclable but not in cups or ‘food approved’ (disposable) tableware. Recycling is therefore downcycling: the value decreases and for this reason it is not a circular solution. PP is, however, suitable for use with hot drinks.



At the moment there are no waste processors in the Netherlands that process PLA. Therefore, this material ends up in the incinerator. The advantage is that no harmful substances are released during incineration, but the material is lost. An on-site fast composting machine can process PLA, but this takes seven days in contrast to, for example, 24 hours for food waste. As a result, PLA adds no value to compost. Therefore, PLA is not a sustainable solution.

In addition, consumers get confused: Is bioplastic plastic or compost? It is possible that compostable packaging causes ‘contamination’ of the plastic stream. And the modern sorting locations at the waste processors often do not recognize bioplastics. It is also no solution for the plastic soup floating in our oceans and seas!


Paper with coating

A paper cup is always given a coating, either plastic (PE) or Polylactic (PLA). Both options are recyclable, if collected separately (PE) or with cardboard (PLA). If this is not possible, the PLA coating is preferred as it emits fewer harmful substances when incinerated.


Disposable plates & cutlery

In practice, food waste and napkins appear to produce too much contamination for plastic plates and cutlery to be recycled. At present, the maximum amount of other materials that can come from a separate stream is 2%. For this reason, it is currently advisable to use compostable materials (with an OK Compost or Kiemplant logo) and, if possible, actually compost them. In the future this can change through innovation in the waste-processing industry.


Circular cup systems - Reusable cup system


Why reusable drinking cups?

We are all familiar with the image of a festival field strewn with broken cups. It looks bad, is not sustainable and it costs extra money and effort to clean up. Did you know that when reusable cups are used, visitors also use the designated waste bins for other waste more often, thus ensuring that the festival site remains extra clean?


Reusable cups, why bother?

-          A cleaner event, so a better experience

-          Sustainable choice

-          Optimal drinking experience

-          Image enhancement

-          Possible earnings model

-          Marketing value when the cup is taken home

-          Savings on cleaning and waste costs, other waste ends up in the rubbish bin more quickly


Facts, fables, faq and answers

Is the use of reusable cups a sustainable choice?

Yes, when you reuse a cup (Polypropylene: PP) at least seven to eight times.

*OVAM analysis uses 18 LCAs.

Source: Studie draaiboek drink- en eetgerei op evenementen – eindrapport (OVAM, 2017)

The eighteen LCAs that were consulted by OVAM do not specifically relate to events. Transport is therefore included to a limited extent in this calculation. On the other hand, cleaning processes, as they relate to water and energy use, are greatly improving. The environmental burden caused by transport also decreases when, due to increasing demand from the market, more washing facilities become available at shorter distances.


Is the use of reusable cups unhygienic?

No. The cups are in many cases not washed at the event, but done industrially and hygienically.


Is the use of reusable cups affordable?

Yes, in many cases it is. A deposit system provides income, and you can also save costs on cleaning, waste processing and the purchase of disposable cups. And maybe even on decoration, because a clean festival is naturally much more attractive!


Is it complicated to work with reusable cups?

No, it is not complicated. This toolkit is intended to help organizers and the food service industry with this process. Many events – including Best Kept Secret, De Parade, Into The Great Wide Open, DGTL, Amsterdam Open Air, Welcome To The Village and Mandala – have already worked with reusable cups. The most important dos and don’ts can be found in this document.


Will the use of reusable cups come at the expense of revenue?

No, numerous cases and experiences have never pointed to visitors drinking less when reusable cups are used.


Are reusable cups unsafe?

No. Due to the use of a deposit system, most of the cups do not end up on the ground. There is thus no tripping hazard. Cups made of PP are also (nearly) unbreakable, so shards are also very unlikely.


Is it true that visitors do not prefer reusable cups?

No, several visitor surveys (DGTL 2016, Mysteryland Campsite 2015) have shown that visitors actually really appreciate them. Only keeping a cup on you is less appreciated, so provide a user-friendly deposit system that allows visitors to easily turn in their cups during the day.

In addition, you can make visitors happy with a cup holder or a key ring. Did you know that a drink stays colder longer in a reusable cup? That does make visitors happy!


(Possible) process reusable cups




To rent or to buy?

A combination of both options is often implemented. If you rent some of the cups and buy the rest, you can still use a cup with your own imprint without making too much of an initial investment. This can turn out positively in the business case, since visitors end up taking home cups with their own printing more often and the deposit is therefore not returned.

Below you can see an overview of the advantages and disadvantages of renting and buying.


Types of cups

-          Polypropylene (PP) cups are more environmentally friendly than polycarbonate (PC) and co-polyester (e.g. Tritan®). They are also scratch-resistant, safe – they contain no BPA – and cheap. There are variants with a handle or tab, which enables stacking and allows for multiple filled cups to be carried in one hand.

-          Some plastic cups on the market contain a percentage of recycled plastic. The environmental impact of a cup made entirely from recycled plastic (e.g. rPET) is about half that of a plastic cup from new, unrecycled plastic.

-          For 100% transparent cups – such as the ribbed glass for beer or reusable plastic champagne glasses – CP or co-polyester is preferable. Of the reusable cups, those that are polycarbonate do have the highest environmental impact. They are also more expensive and less scratch resistant.


How many cups should I order?

The number of cups you should order depends above all on the expected beverage sales and whether you will be washing the cups on location or not.

Washing on location: dependent on washing capacity.

Industrial cleaning afterwards: as many cups as the number of disposable cups that you would normally order. In addition, the accessibility of the bars during the event also plays a role in the number of cups to be ordered.


Which cup do I choose for which drink?

Choose the smallest number of different types of cups possible (beer, soft drinks, mixed drinks, wine) to limit the logistical challenges. If you do choose multiple cups, make sure that they are easy to differentiate. This speeds up the sorting process for the bar staff. But the fewer different types of glasses the faster. Are you working with a rapid tapping/pouring device If so, check in advance whether the cup fits into the system.


Hybrid system (reusable & recycling)

In combination with reusable cups, it is also possible to sell disposable packaging – such as water bottles – with the same deposit system. Just like the cups, the bottles come back to the bar. The result is a clean waste stream that is easily recyclable.

The deposit system is also suitable for beverage-carrying trays (reusable and disposable).


Deposit or payment system

The success of the use of disposable cups is inextricably linked to a good deposit system. The deposit must be high enough: from a minimum of one Euro to a maximum of the price of one drink. This is not only to cover the costs of a missed cup, but also to give the cup extra value. Consequently, visitors more quickly grasp the importance of returning the cup.


Because the return payment is not always easy to organize and can be susceptible to fraud, organizations are increasingly opting for an alternative: a souvenir or promotional code. Make sure that this alternative has sufficient value for the visitor. A sympathetic and sustainable option is the placement of return boxes where visitors can donate their cup to charity.

It is possible to give visitors the first cup for free, by giving out a cup token at the entrance. The visitor exchanges this token for a cup with their first order at the bar.

Selling a cup, and thus not facilitating a return payment, causes a huge loss of cups and is thus not a sustainable choice! By way of comparison, the loss of one reusable cup is equivalent to throwing away ten disposable cups.

The deposit system can also be adapted for trays (reusable and disposable).



Communicate clearly about the use of reusable cups and the deposit system, so that your visitors know what to expect. This might include:

-          Website and social media

-          Signage at the bars

-          Event program and/or app

-          Map (with cup collection points indicated)




Solution – deposit on disposables

Case study - Amsterdam Open Air // Milkshake – PET collection by beverage supplier

Lipton and Bar le Duc committed to taking all used PET bottles of their own brands with them after the festival. PET bottles with a deposit were separately binned at the bars, resulting in a clean PET single waste stream.


Solution – Modular signing and banners

Case study - AIR/ID&T – Modular signing and banners

Signing and banners without festival logo’s so that signing can be reused at different events. Modular signing so directions and instructions can be changed, making it easier to reuse in a different context.


Supplier – Ireland – Down2Earth materials

Down2earth materials supplies compostable vegware cups to Body&Soul festival.


Recommended reading – Toolkit Wastefree Festivals

The results of the ‘Green Deal Afvalvrije Festivals’. Hands-on experience of 10 Dutch festivals, collected and put into writing by Green Events in collaboration with Nederland Schoon and the Dutch government. Predecessor to the current international version ‘Green Deal Circular Festivals.  Contains chapters on responsible use of plastic, reusable drinking cups, composting and campsite waste.


Recommended reading – The making waves guide to plastic-free festivals and events



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