Moving away from plastic pint glasses at Brookburn Road: our progress, issues, and ideas

At the start of this calendar year, we asked for your feedback as to what you’d like to see changed at the club. One of the main points that came up was the use of single-use plastics at Brookburn Road – but, most prominently, the use of disposable plastic pint pots at our games. Truthfully, this is something that committee members have also queried in the past, but your concerns expedited our search for a solution to find something more suitable for both the environment and the ethos of this club and our supporters.

Over the past few months, members of the committee – but, in particular, myself (Matthew Durrant), co-Chair Rob McKay, and club secretary Rob Madden – have discussed a number of different ways through which we could resolve the matter. As we strive to become more transparent with supporters (again, something that came up through feedback), it was thought to be suitable to release some news on our process, the progress we’ve made, and what the next steps may be (if any). Below is an exhaustive explanation of the discussions we’ve had, and the conclusions we’ve reached: if you’d rather not read the vagueries on why various solutions might not work, skip to Where We Go From Here at the bottom of this article.

As ever, thanks for your patience and support

Matthew

Using compostable plastic glasses

This was initially our first port of call, and seemed to be an easy solution: a more biodegradable form of plastic would both be an easy switch and would not require us to change any of our current matchday operations. However, upon further investigation, this raised more problems than it did provide a solution. An article in The Independent from earlier this year highlights the issues with biodegradble plastics well: despite common beliefs about them, these plastics require very exact conditions to break down, and most require some form of recycling plant to be processed. Using the example of plastic bags, the article said:

Imogen Napper and Richard Thompson at the University of Plymouth, tested compostable, biodegradable, oxo-biodegradable, and conventional polythene plastic bags in three different natural environments: buried in the ground, outdoors exposed to air and sunlight, and submerged in the sea. Not one of the bags broke down completely in all of the environments tested. In particular, the biodegradable bag survived in soil and sea almost unscathed.

Moving on to other forms of plastic, they added:

The other type of degradable plastic tested was made from oxo-biodegradable plastic. These are conventional plastics, but they contain additives which, after an appropriate time delay, allow the plastic to react with oxygen which breaks it down – speeding up the degradation reactions that would otherwise take place over hundreds of years.

But these plastics are also somewhat controversial, as evidence suggests that they do not biodegrade completely as their manufacturers claim, but instead break down into microplastics which may persist in the environment. As a result, the EU is taking steps to restrict the use of these plastics.

One plastic supplier list the following advice on their website:

Made from ‘PLA’ (which derives from GM corn), these glasses are marketed as ‘biodegradable’. But they will not biodegrade on your compost heap, or as litter, or in the ground, or in the sea. There are no composting facilities in the UK that will accept them, and additionally they contaminate regular plastic recycling, causing whole batches to be sent to land fill. If this is counter to what you are looking to achieve, then you may want avoid ‘biodegradadable’.

Given our plastics are normally just put in the bin, the chances are these biodegradable plastics would simply end up at the landfill alongside their traditional plastic cousins, and take roughly the same amount of time to degrade. Meaning it would hardly be a solution at all, and was chalked off as a potential change.

Moving to re-usable plastic glasses

While still plastic, re-usable pint pots – sometimes referred to as Arena or Stadium Cups – have been one option we have extensively investigated. The main issues are to do with both the matchday operations of the club, and the up-front financial costs involved.

On a Saturday matchday, we average over 300 people in attendance, and – using rough estimates – the club may sell 400 Krombacher over the course of the game. To ensure that there would be enough to cover this over the course of, say, a Bank Holiday doubleheader, we’d need around 1,000 re-usable plastic glasses: this is about the minimum order for most Stadium Cup producers. To have them printed as we’d like, this would cost around 90p per unit: an up-front fee of £900. In order to make this work, we’d need to charge a £1 deposit on these glasses at every home game, which would a) require extra volunteers to maintain, b) potentially increase congestion at the bar due to people asking for refunds/paying deposits, c) require regular stock checks to stay on top of how many had been lost/stolen/damaged, and d) leave the club facing another large up-front bill if stock levels were to dip. So, from both a financial and organisational point of view, we had to discard printed stadium cups as a solution, at least at the moment.

We also investigated cheaper, off-the-shelf reusable pint glasses, the kind you may see in a pub beer garden this summer. While cheaper, these would still be an upfront outlay – but at a cost the club would be able to afford. In order to maintain stock and encourage re-use, we would likely need to impose a deposit scheme on these also – or further increase beer costs in order to maintain our thin margins on beer sales: both of which could be viable, but would require operational changes at the club. However, the major problem arose when we discussed how these glasses would actually be re-used.

To make re-usable plastic glasses work, we would need either one of our existing volunteers or new volunteers to guarantee that they would be able to collect, wash, and dry around 400 pint glasses at the full time whistle of every home game, ideally for both men’s and women’s matches. The alternative would be employing someone to do so, which over the course of a season would cost. extremely conservatively, around £1,000. In addition, we would be faced with the problem of having to find somewhere to hygienically leave 400 pint glasses to dry in our small kitchen area, or employ someone to dry them: another (conservative) £1,000 in costs per season.

As we have historically struggled to recruit volunteers, the strain on the workload of current volunteers, and the costs involved – not to mention the sheer logistics of making this work from a space point of view – we sadly had to abandon reusable plastics as being viable at this current moment in time. When the clubhouse is redeveloped, and if there is an increase in volunteering over the course of the season, this is something that we will be able to reassess.

Moving to Krombacher cans instead of bottles

This was the only solution that we were able to countenance that would provide the impact we desired (reducing use of single-use plastics), while also working operationally for the club.

Switching to cans would, theoretically, allow us to serve open cans at the bar for spectators, who would not need to decant into a plastic pint pot. This would also mean

  • Getting served quicker at the bar (no waiting for beers to be poured, easier to open without bottle opener), and volunteers would, in theory, have to spend less time behind the bar
  • Beers would/should be colder (as cans allow beer to chill faster compared to bottles)
  • More units of beer could be stored in fridges, as cans take up less room than bottles
  • Stacking fridges would be quicker, as it wouldn’t necessarily require boxes to be emptied by hand into the fridge: crates could be placed directly into the fridge
  • We would also be able to store more beer in the clubhouse, again due to the small space crates take up
  • Recycling would be easier, as cans can be compacted and aren’t as heavy: something which would also mean the beer shed would be more viable (one issue the beer shed has had is removing empty bottles from within at the end of a game, which can take an extra half an hour after the full time whistle)

There would be a small cost benefit for the club, which would equate to a few pence per unit (buying Krombacher cans from our supplier is marginally cheaper than bottles – although not enough to avoid this season’s price increase), and serving sizes would remain the same (500ml). However, cans would still need to be opened before being handed over to supporters, as a closed can could be used as a missile.

The main downside is the potential negative response from supporters in both moving to cans and increasing the price of Krombacher in the same summer. We’re aware that a sizeable portion of our fanbase prefer – rightly or wrongly – to drink from a bottle, especially in the clubhouse, after the game. We would be loath to alienate these supporters, especially without prior consultation.

Where we go from here

Currently, the club plans to continue using single-use plastics: given we still have stock of them, and bottled Krombacher for sale, this is the only sensible course of action. However, we will be looking at implementing something which works towards eliminating our eliminating disposable pint glasses: at the moment, transitioning to Krombacher cans is the only solution we’ve been able to find that comes close to being able to be implemented. However, we wouldn’t want to take such a step without first discussing this potential movement with supporters, and broadening the search for a solution to the expertise of West fans. If you have any questions, comments, or ideas, we’d love to hear them – whether that be support for a move to canned beer, opposition to it, or an idea which we hadn’t thought of. Get in touch below, or DM us on social media to let us know what you think.

 

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