Sip, Save, Repeat: Case Study on Reusable Cup Service at Natural Products Expo West

January 10, 2024

Exclusively sponsored by Honeycomb Strategies

Natural Products Expo West (NPEW) gathers industry professionals, stakeholders and consumers from the natural products and sustainable living sectors annually. The event showcases eco-friendly products, promotes sustainable practices and fosters networking opportunities within the industry. 

But with nearly 70,000 people expected to walk through the doors of the Anaheim Convention Center for the 2023 event, even organizers understood the possibility for their eco-focused event to generate a large amount of single-use waste. 

“Sustainability is a huge initiative for us,” said Kim Shaw, NPEW’s show director from New Hope Network, which produces the annual event. “Convention centers in general produce a lot of waste, and we wanted to figure out a way to help the community and our environment, so a focus has been eliminating single use waste at our events.”  

Shaw had used a reusable cup service run by r.World when visiting Cervantes Masterpiece Ballroom in Denver and loved it. She proposed implementing a cup reuse program for onsite beverage service at NPEW 2023. By providing attendees with reusable cups, the organizers aimed to minimize the environmental footprint of the conference.

Selecting a vendor 

Though there are several cup reuse programs available, organizers ultimately selected r.Cup, which was the right vendor not only because of Shaw’s familiarity with r.World’s program but also because the system design aligned with the goals of event management. 

The cups are made from polypropylene No. 5, which is a high quality and highly recyclable material that does not contain PFAFs (highly toxic forever chemicals found in many single-use cups). Plus, the system for cup distribution and return was simple. The cups showcased custom text, such as “please return me to a r.Cup* bin” and “a better future is in your hands,” which not only educated the user about the new system but also helped reinforce NPEW’s sustainability messaging. 

“​​r.Cup was really easy to partner with,” said Pamela Skaggs, senior director of operations at Informa Markets, which oversees New Hope Network. “Organizing a trade show with nearly 70,000 people involves complex logistics. Rolling out new programs can create new road bumps, but the r.Cup initiative went as smoothly as possible. The r.Cup team helped set us up for success, making sure the entire system — from delivery to set-up to return — ran smoothly.” 

How it worked

r.Cup provided and helped set-up the cups, bins and signage, as well as provided management with a marketing toolkit to educate the event center staff, she added.

Tina Swanson, chief revenue officer at r.World, shared the benefit of the program was reciprocal. “We love partnering with New Hope Network and Informa Markets at the Natural Product Expos because they share our mission and passion for protecting the planet.”

Before the conference opened, show management, r.World, the Anaheim Convention Center, housekeeping, the general service contractor, food and beverage providers and sustainability consultant Honeycomb Strategies physically walked the venue to map locations for cup distribution and return. Beverage stations, strategically placed to attract traffic, served all beverages in r.World’s reusable cups, and featured prominently-labeled return stations. Following the event, r.World picked up the returned cups for sanitation to be used again and again.

To ensure the launch went well, organizers initiated an extensive awareness campaign through email newsletters, social media and the event website. Onsite, informational posters, digital screens and announcements throughout the convention center reiterated the negative environmental impact of single-use plastics and emphasized the importance of using the provided reusable cups.

Swanson commended the planning: “The team did a remarkable job leaning into staff and guest awareness and education, which is what drove such great return rates.”

The payoff 

The reusable cups resulted in a significant reduction in single-use plastic waste at the convention center. Through r.World, NPEW eliminated almost 3,000 single-use cups, resulting in the avoidance of 164 pounds of CO2 and 12 pounds of waste, with additional savings of 28 liters of crude oil, 186 kWh of energy and 85 gallons of water.

Attendees loved the reusable cup initiative, appreciating the efforts made by the conference organizers to promote sustainability. 

“We had people commenting on how cool it was at the event,” Skaggs said. “I actually had one of our official conference vendors reach out to say they wanted to share the program with another client.” 

The new program added value to the conference’s reputation, which may earn dividends in the coming years through attendee retention and expansion. 

The success of the reusable cup initiative was largely attributed to effective communication. Starting the process early with all stakeholders allowed time for design, production and logistics, ensuring a seamless implementation. By demonstrating the feasibility and benefits of sustainable practices, NPEW set an inspiring example for other events to embrace eco-friendly initiatives as a way to increase both value and positive impact. 

*r.World was previously known as r.Cup, which is now the name of their flagship cup reuse program, in addition to providing other reuse programs such as serviceware and r.Turn technology for inventory and order management. The company is creating the infrastructure for the reuse economy, currently operating in seven markets with plans to expand into dozens of additional markets in 2024 and beyond. 

Honeycomb Strategies specializes in impactful solutions for sustainable events and venues.

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