Making (Ou)r.World Better With Reusable Serveware

While 2023 was a remarkable year for the live entertainment industry, it was a difficult one for the planet hosting all the memorable events fans flocked to. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported that 2023 was the warmest year on record, raising alarms across the globe, but for Michael Martin, a leader in the sustainability movement within the live entertainment space, not all hope is lost.

“Everyone is going to be touched, whether it’s mudslides, hurricanes, storms, 90-degree weather here in Minnesota which we had in April,” Martin tells Pollstar. “But what’s going to happen as a result is that people are going to finally wake up to change.”

Martin has been helping people make those changes in their lives for more than 30 years, most recently in the live events space through r.World, a company that is leading the reusable serveware and cups movement in live entertainment.

After launching r.Cup in 2017 and accumulating clients over the years, the company expanded its services to offer reusable serveware through r.Ware, assisting venues transitioning from single-use plastics and aluminum, especially with many adopting grab-and-go concessions.

“Part of the reason we exist is because, at live events, recycling is challenging,” Martin says. “Everything gets commingled, and as a result, that waste has to go to landfill. Compost or bioplastic cups don’t work at live events either because of the same problem of contamination. The only way those work is if they’re hand-sorted and taken to an industrial composting facility, and that very rarely happens. If you want to do what’s right for the environment, the best thing is reuse.”

r.Cup Toast Expo West stage 2024
r.Cup, r.Ware and r.Turn began operating under r.World last October, expanding their products and reach. The company that provides reusable serveware recently worked on a program with Arena in Los Angeles during a Depeche Mode run of shows.
(Courtesy r.World)

Martin takes pride in the fact that r.World has stopped 50 tons of plastic from being produced, and much of it has to do with venues joining the trend of reuse. The company is now in seven states and 44 cities, partnering with more than 200 venues across the country and working with municipalities to build elaborate eco-friendly wash hubs along with partner Ecolab that would allow the sanitization of reusable cups.

The growth of r.World in just 12 months is remarkable considering the fact that it was operating in just over four dozen venues and festivals last year, proving that the people are waking up to the change Martin has been pushing. r.World operated at a high-profile new venue in Las Vegas as well as Arena in Los Angeles during a run of Depeche Mode shows.

ASM Global announced a partnership with r.World and plans to eliminate single-use plastics at all of its North American venues by 2025. The reuse platform has also worked with major entertainment companies such as AEG Presents, which has been driving the momentum for reuse, Martin says. r.World is also currently working with stadiums hosting World Cup matches in 2026.

“We have more demand than we can keep up with. I think this is the hottest topic in operations in live events, sports, music, corporate campuses, universities and food courts,” says Martin, who credited U2 with being one of the first to work with r.World seven years ago.

While the biggest environmental impact in the music industry is transportation – from concertgoers and artists – reducing waste at a venue is the more discernible of the two and can encourage fans to minimize their reliance on single-use plastics and aluminum.

The success of r.World is very much reliant on the participation of the fans, and they didn’t disappoint when called upon. During Depeche Mode’s two nights at Arena, r.World saw a 98% return rate of cups and serveware, which Martin says is “unbelievable for a venue of that size.” It’s an indication of fans’ willingness to change, especially if it’s tied to an artist they admire. Martin commended AJR bassist Adam Met for his work that encourages artists to use their platforms to spark a fan-based climate movement.

“The music industry has really launched the concept of reuse into mainstream consciousness,” Martin says. “Our belief is that the fan will perhaps experience a reuse scenario at Arena and then when they go to Starbucks, they may remember to bring their own reusable cup.

“The artist-fan connection is really one of the few things where there’s trust. I believe that artists are in a position to save the world.”

Though time is running out for the world to meet the 2030 deadline of reducing carbon emissions by 50%, Martin says it’s never too late to turn the ship, even if we are 24 years behind, and reusables are a good starting point.