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Waste Not
PepsiCo, UEFA Launch Circular Pilots During Champions League Finals

Last weekend’s Women’s event was the first Champions League Final to deploy returnable service ware, starting a long-term collaboration in reducing waste at major sports events.

The Union of European Football Associations’ (UEFA) Men’s and Women’s Champions League Finals — the two biggest sporting events in Europe — are quickly representing two of the top five in the world based on the growth of the women’s game.

The men’s event is routinely one of the most-viewed matches in the world, regularly doubling Super Bowl viewership, and is really only surpassed in men’s World Cup years.

Like any other large sports gathering, these events also produce a ton of waste — primarily single-use plastic — but this year’s editions point to a potential new path forward through a partnership between PepsiCo and the UEFA.

Last weekend’s Women's Champions League Final in Eindhoven, Netherlands was the first to pilot a returnable packaging program — where 52,000, 40-centiliter transparent cups were available to purchase for a returnable deposit of €2. Along with the cups, Doritos Nachos were served in returnable trays throughout the stadium.

Image credit: PepsiCo

“(While) we are waiting for the data from Eindhoven stadium post-event, key success metrics for (these) cups and food trays will obviously be the redemption rate, which we trust will be > 90 percent,” PepsiCo Europe chief sustainability officer Archana Jagannathan told Sustainable Brands®.

Mark Kirkham, PepsiCo SVP and chief marketing officer for global beverages, adds that the company considered deep consumer insights around recycling habits, cultural intel and understanding of local waste-management processes and infrastructure to make it a seamless experience.

“It was ultimately a pilot to test and learn for the future; and we look forward to analyzing and learning from the results once they are captured,” he says.

This Saturday’s men’s Final is in Istanbul — where PepsiCo is partnering with smart reuse service TURN to deploy 48,000 TURN smart cups, which are scanned at the collection point and can be sanitized and reused through the company’s larger second-use system. Further, both events will feature 100 percent recyclable packaging for all PepsiCo food and beverage products.

Supporting bigger change down the road

Kirkham notes that last year, PepsiCo helped UEFA outline its Circular Economy Strategy within its broader Football Sustainability Strategy 2030, as the association begins a broader journey towards zero plastic and food waste at its events.

While the data from the endeavors at this year’s Finals will certainly be analyzed at great depth, realizing that kind of goal will likely be tough as UEFA represents 55 European countries, all with different recycling and processing infrastructures and all at a different point in their own responsibility journeys.

“Our actions are focused on finding and disseminating solutions applicable to football matches taking place across national associations, leagues and clubs in Europe to play our part in tackling environmental challenges," Michele Uva, UEFA social and environmental sustainability director said in a press release.

UEFA has a range of 2030 benchmarks it’s working to meet — including the rollout of its own “sustainable event management system,” which could be aspirational; but interestingly, Kirkham adds that PepsiCo would like to see zero waste to landfill become a requirement included in future hosting rights for all UEFA events — which could spur faster adoption of system-wide sustainability measures.

The first step is realizing a collective goal to make both Champions League Finals “zero waste to landfill” by 2026. Sustainable Brands was not able to get an update on progress towards this goal by press time.

For now, it’s clear that the data collected from both events will be among the most valuable outcomes from these two major events.

Jagannathan explained that additional fiber cups circulated throughout the Final in Istanbul will be 100 percent recyclable in the local paper stream; and the material has a higher value in the current commodity market (which is important to the responsible movement and re-integration of the material).

“We were assured about the waste flow, which is arranged properly to maximize recycling rate of cups from the stadium,” she says. “Reuse efforts are fairly easy to manage, as we track measuring total cups sold vs. redeemed.”

She acknowledged that they may not get as much detail in the data as they’d like, solely because of the scale of collecting this amount of recyclable material from 60,000 fans with 220 collection bins spread through the stadium, fan zone and festival zone.

But the PepsiCo-UEFA pilots join similar efforts from Anheuser-Busch, Ball Corporation and Liverpool FC to engage sports fans on circularity and the importance of recycling and reuse; and represent positive momentum toward reining in the environmental impact of events.