“Eco-friendly” cups at Twickenham stadium: does the evidence stack up?

When Alex Thompson visited Twickenham stadium for a rugby match, he noticed that the Rugby Football Union (RFU) were charging a one-pound deposit for plastic cups and describing them as "eco-friendly". He used AskforEvidence.org to ask the RFU whether they had evidence to support this.

He received a reply from Ecocup, who make the cups used at Twickenham. They explained that the cups are designed to be washed after use rather than thrown away. Although the cups are made of plastic and are not biodegradable, their reuse – whether at the stadium again or at home by fans – makes them environmentally friendly according to Emmanuel Torrent, a director at the French company.

"A container produced for a single use is not environmentally friendly," Torrent said in his letter to Alex. "The priority is therefore to reduce the use of throw away cups and to reduce the production of biodegradable objects. The best waste is no waste!"

Ecocup referred Alex to a study on the use of returnable cups during the Uefa Euro 2008 football tournament. The study, carried out by two institutes and a consulting firm in Austria, Switzerland and Germany, and published by the German government, concluded that returnable cups have a lower environmental impact than disposable cups, including biodegradable alternatives.

Torrent also said that Ecocup’s cleaning method, which uses 60ml of water a cup, is more environmentally friendly than those used by their competitors, and that plans were in place to start reusing 98% of this water. However, he conceded that the cups used at Twickenham are currently washed in France, where the company is based. “The UK is still in the proof of concept stage, but we have plans for washing stations in London and Bristol,” he said.

Alex was happy with the response he received from Ecocup. "The information seems to be sound and the independent study they pointed me to backs up their claims,” he said. “I think that the RFU should put more of this information up on their website."

Featured image: Ruth Hartnup/Flickr

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