Rolling Stones fans can grab an r.Cup on the band’s current North American tour. (Courtesy r.Cup)

With the support of bands, r.Cup greens up venues like The Amp St. Augustine 

When The Amp St. Augustine replaced plastic cups with reusable cups in April, the venue saw a dramatic decrease in trash collected after each event.

The Florida venue partnered with r.Cup, a reusable cup company that helps artists and venues reduce their environmental impact. Before offering reusable cups, the venue used to collect roughly 27 bins full of trash per event. That figure is now down to four bins.

“It’s insane to look at the amount of trash that was leaving the amphitheater at the end of the show opposed to now,” said Ryan Murphy, former director of cultural events for St. Johns County, the municipality that runs the venue. “What used to be in those huge 27 bins was (mainly) plastic cups.”

Murphy helped the venue make the transition to reusable cups after he met r.Cup CEO and founder Michael Martin, who also runs Effect Partners, a company that has helped the entertainment industry reduce chemical and plastic use since 1990.

“I was really impressed with how they handled waste management,” Murphy said.

R.Cup also helps venues save money and make money by ditching plastic cups for reusable ones, Martin said. “My goal is to eliminate single-use plastic cups. It’s becoming the backbone infrastructure for the reusable economy,” he said.

For example, if a concessionaire is buying half a billion cups per year, it’s spending roughly 5 cents a cup. With the r.Cup business model, the concessionaires are no longer spending 5 cents a cup.

“You’ve now given the clients what you want, and you’ve given the fans what they want,” Martin said, noting that if a venue is doing a refill in a disposable plastic cup, it loses 5 cents a transaction. Another incentive is that 10 percent of the company’s profit goes to nonprofits that work toward cleaning up the oceans. 

“A lot of the company is owned by the leaders of the music and sports industry. We’ve done that to create the assurance that the environmental impact is maintained,” Martin said. “We will have staff come in and work at the events. We do face-to-face training with bartenders and services.” He declined to name those music and sports investors.

On event days, the company has staff on site to help the venue and fans with the reusable cups. Signs and graphics are displayed throughout the venue, outlining the company’s mission and how the cups are used, r.Cup said.

When guests buy a beer, cocktail or soda, they pay a $3 deposit on the cup and reuse that cup throughout the event. Afterward they can either take the cup home as a souvenir (the cups bear the logo of the musical act or sports team that was playing that night) or return it and get their $3 deposit back. 

If guests turn in their cups, the r.Cup team will collect the cups and sterilize them so they can be used again. Twenty-five cents of the $3 deposit is given to the concessionaire for each cup that a fan returns.

R.Cup launched in 2017 after U2 partnered with Martin, using the reusable cups on its Joshua Tree tour. 

“The band was incredibly supportive and excited about it,” said Craig Evans, former tour manager for U2. “The impact here was trying to influence a green thinking into the industry.”

After U2, other artists such as the Rolling Stones, Mumford & Sons, Radiohead and Jack Johnson found out about r.Cup and wanted to use the cups on their tours. 

The Amp St. Augustine was one of the first venues in the country to become an r.Cup “resident,” meaning the venue uses its cups exclusively regardless of the act coming through on tour. First Avenue in Minneapolis was another early adopter.

Martin and the r.Cup team have worked with Levy, Aramark, Sodexo and Legends, along with others, to help venues transition to r.Cup. 

Murphy found that alcohol sales went up “tremendously” when the venue switched to r.Cup, and he’s fascinated with the psychology surrounding the reusable cups, regardless of what people are drinking out of them.

“If you have a cup in your hand that you can’t throw away, it feels really awkward if it’s empty. Nobody likes an empty cup. Nine times out of 10 you’ll get another drink or people you’re with will be like ‘Can I get you another drink?’” Murphy said. 

Another reusable cup phenomenon: If fans get lazy and leave the cup behind, oftentimes other fans will pick up the cups and return them for the deposits or take them home for their collection. “People are cleaning the amphitheater for us,” Murphy said. 

Michael Martin, r.Cup CEO and founder, will speak at the VenuesNow Conference Sept. 10-11 in New York City.