Community//

Social Impact Heroes: How Michael Martin and r.Cup are inspiring communities to reduce their use of single-use plastics

The world is in a plastic crisis. We are all eating a credit card size worth of plastic every week! People might not realize it, but the live event industry contributes more than four billion single-use plastic cups that end up in landfills, incinerators or the environment. You ever go to a concert or sporting […]


The world is in a plastic crisis. We are all eating a credit card size worth of plastic every week! People might not realize it, but the live event industry contributes more than four billion single-use plastic cups that end up in landfills, incinerators or the environment. You ever go to a concert or sporting event, and notice the sheer amount of litter on the venue floor? It’s staggering! r.Cup’s purpose is to inspire fans and communities to reduce their use of single-use plastics via the cultural platform of live events. We started with music — I can’t think of a better platform to launch our efforts since this audience tends to be very receptive and action-oriented toward environmental and social issues. Plus, it doesn’t hurt to have partners like U2, Rolling Stones, Jack Johnson, Dave Matthews Band, Kevin Lyman and Rod Stewart on your side. We’re working with early adopters and leaders in this space who are inspiring others by making sustainability a priority and affecting industry change. Because we’re so new, people often ask how does r.Cup work at live events? For the fan experience, they get a beverage in a high-quality artist or event-branded r.Cup. They pay for the beverage plus a $3 deposit for the cup. If they want another drink (and most do), they bring the same r.Cup back for refills. After the event, they can take their r.Cup home and continue to use to make an even bigger impact. Or they can return it….to get their deposit back. For the venue, r.Cup provides the cups, handles all the messaging, social media monitoring, logistics, sanitizing, transportation, inventory management and tracks the positive environmental impact of the program. Venues that implement an r.Cup program are seeing a significant drop in waste generated. That means less clean-up or disposal services, which saves them money. Our concession partners are reporting increased per-head sales which means folks holding a cup want to keep filling it up! But we don’t want to stop there. How do we bring it home? Well, ten percent of the company is owned by non-profits working on the plastic crisis. That means as r.Cup grows, the plastic waste crisis begins to lessen. Reducing single-use plastic waste with r.Cup seems easy conceptually but as you can see, it actually takes great cooperation, coordination and openness to change. We’re excited by the reactions and results so far. People want to participate and are pushing for more solutions. We call this the r.Cup revolution!


As part of my series about “individuals and organizations making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Michael Martin. Michael is Founder and CEO of EFFECT Partners and his latest venture r.Cup, which is changing the live-event industry by providing a simple, reusable alternative to single-use plastic cups. He has been a thought-leader in sustainability, impact investing, social change innovation and marketing for almost 30 years. During this time, Michael has been instrumental in conceiving of, starting, incubating or funding companies in organic food, renewable energy, CO2 offsets, technologies to reduce paper and plastic use, technologies in the security industry, wellness training and green energy. EFFECT identifies major sustainability issues and acts as a catalyst to create movements leading to social change using music, arts and culture. As the newest project EFFECT incubated, r.Cup, LLC, tackles the plastic crisis with an innovative campaign-based concept. r.Cup is an impact company using culture to educate communities, concessionaires and the general public about the issues with single-use plastics and providing a viable market-based solution. Founded in 2017, r.Cup is already making an impact touring with eco-leading artists including U2, Bon Jovi, Dave Matthews Band, The Rolling Stones, Mumford & Sons, Warped Tour and more. This year, r.Cup launched its first venue residency at The St. Augustine Amphitheatre and is now focusing on broadening the residency model with many more venues and sports facilities.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

MM: You could say I’m a recovering Wall Street Investment Banker. Here I was selling mortgage-backed securities in the 80s, and things were going well. But that era also brought about environmental disasters like Bhopal and the Exxon Valdez oil spill. It became a real struggle for me to reconcile working with some of these companies. And so I turned my focus on using capitalism for good and creating ways to make a positive impact on the health of not only people but also the planet.

And now, here it is almost 30 years later, part of my work includes advising artists, events, festivals and venues on best greening practices. Why artists? Because artists are the “canaries in the coal mine” and they have a platform that can inspire and educate. During this time, the environmental Holy Grail has always been waste reduction, especially those single-use plastic cups. From this, r.Cup was born.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?

MM: The most consistent interesting experience I have with r.Cup and the other innovations I’ve developed has been to see the reaction of people when they have that “light-bulb moment” new way of looking at things. I can’t tell you how many concessions managers have said to me, “We can’t do a reusable cup program.” And when I ask why, the most common answer is, “Because we have never done that before.” What makes it interesting is to be able to talk them through their fear of change and get them to do it and then inevitably, they like it. Many times, this becomes the new way to do it.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

MM: I’m not sure about a funny mistake, but I can talk about an eye-opening experience that led to the creation of r.Cup. In 2016, Live Nation hired me to optimize greening for their amphitheaters. At the time the conventional wisdom was to lean into composting and especially these bioplastic cups. So, I developed a solution of designing everything to be recycled or composted. Live Nation was awesome and let me try this, so we eliminated all plastic and the only bins we had were recycling and composting bins! We even staffed them with “trash goalies” to make sure things went into the correct bins.

Well there were 2 big issues with this idea. Turns out, we are now learning that bioplastic turns into microplastic … which contaminates the recycled material. That means it needed to be hand-sorted out before going to the industrial composting facility. And then, even with this whole system in place, STILL 80% of the waste from the event went to landfill. That’s because 80% of the trash is left on the field or under seats and gets shoveled into trash bags. So this wasn’t going to work.

That got me thinking. What if we could REDUCE the number of cups that are needed to serve the fans by offering refills in the first place. We could do that by creating a cup that they can REUSE. Even better, how about a cup with a RENT, REFILL, RETURN mechanism? r.Cup comes from this. And so lesson learned? Don’t get discouraged by early iterations that might not work because they can take you on a path that lead to even bigger, better and maybe even industry-changing ideas.

Can you describe how you or your organization is making a significant social impact?

MM: The world is in a plastic crisis. We are all eating a credit card size worth of plastic every week! People might not realize it, but the live event industry contributes more than four billion single-use plastic cups that end up in landfills, incinerators or the environment. You ever go to a concert or sporting event, and notice the sheer amount of litter on the venue floor? It’s staggering!

r.Cup’s purpose is to inspire fans and communities to reduce their use of single-use plastics via the cultural platform of live events. We started with music — I can’t think of a better platform to launch our efforts since this audience tends to be very receptive and action-oriented toward environmental and social issues. Plus, it doesn’t hurt to have partners like U2, Rolling Stones, Jack Johnson, Dave Matthews Band, Kevin Lyman and Rod Stewart on your side. We’re working with early adopters and leaders in this space who are inspiring others by making sustainability a priority and affecting industry change.

Because we’re so new, people often ask how does r.Cup work at live events? For the fan experience, they get a beverage in a high-quality artist or event-branded r.Cup. They pay for the beverage plus a $3 deposit for the cup. If they want another drink (and most do), they bring the same r.Cup back for refills. After the event, they can take their r.Cup home and continue to use to make an even bigger impact. Or they can return it….to get their deposit back.

For the venue, r.Cup provides the cups, handles all the messaging, social media monitoring, logistics, sanitizing, transportation, inventory management and tracks the positive environmental impact of the program. Venues that implement an r.Cup program are seeing a significant drop in waste generated. That means less clean-up or disposal services, which saves them money. Our concession partners are reporting increased per-head sales which means folks holding a cup want to keep filling it up!

But we don’t want to stop there. How do we bring it home? Well, ten percent of the company is owned by non-profits working on the plastic crisis. That means as r.Cup grows, the plastic waste crisis begins to lessen.

Reducing single-use plastic waste with r.Cup seems easy conceptually but as you can see, it actually takes great cooperation, coordination and openness to change. We’re excited by the reactions and results so far. People want to participate and are pushing for more solutions. We call this the r.Cup revolution!

Can you tell me a story about a particular individual who was impacted by your cause?

MM: How about a person who impacted me? That would be Steve Miller and his adoption of what became the “EnviroRider™” — which was designed to be added to the contracts a band signs with a venue or event promoter. You know, bands have production and catering riders, so I thought, why not an EnviroRider for all the things the band wanted the venue to do to green the tour. And so, in 1991, Steve Miller was the first artist to use an EnviroRider with his tour that we created for him. It was an important statement and catalyst for artists to leverage their influence to make their concerts as environmentally-friendly as possible.

At first, we had some resistance. But now I’m happy to report that many artists have successfully used the Envirorider and so many of the items that were originally nixed back in the early days are now common practice. That includes everything from on-site composting to offsetting emissions to using biodiesel to power generators to implementing r.Cup programs today.

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

MM: Really, it starts with simple actions like eliminating plastic straws, reducing single-use plastic at home, work and businesses, banning plastic bags, organizing community clean-ups and pushing for solutions like allowing or bringing reusable containers to restaurants or live events. This can be done from the personal, community and political level. When like-minded folks come together to push a passionate cause, it can be a powerful thing.

It is all about thinking about the true cost of not taking action on these problems before they become too overwhelming. Thinking about the long term, generational impact of decisions made today.

How do you define “Leadership”?

MM: Leadership is providing a clear vision, inspiring others to see in this vision and then it is about hard, smart and honest work.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

MM: Tackle Externalities!!! Change the accounting system so it accurately reflects the true cost of business. The planet is currently subsidizing corporate profits to a tune of $21 Trillion annually. Until we make companies accurately report their costs, we will continue to harm the health of the people and the planet.

Why do the companies that are creating global warming via their CO2 emissions not have to pay for hurricane relief or rebuilding houses from fires caused by global warming? Why can businesses around the world sell single-use plastic and packaging and then make communities pay for the disposal of it? Why is there not a cost on water? And so on.

If companies had to truly report their true costs, many would go out of business, but society would not have to be paying for the problems they have created.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“A true conservationist is a man who knows that the world is not given by his fathers, but borrowed from his children.” John James Audubon

These words speak volumes to me. I keep my own children and the next generations in mind with every personal and business action that I take. This keeps me grounded and motivated as I pursue impactful social change — on the local, national and global scale.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

MM: President Obama. His leadership, vision and character inspired me and still does. Now, more than ever.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

MM: You can learn more about r.Cup at http://rcup.com/. Follow r.Cup on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn at @rcupworld. My handle is @MMinMM across those channels.

I look forward to connecting with like-minded folks and growing our community. Thank you for this opportunity!

This was very meaningful, thank you so much!

The Thrive Global Community welcomes voices from many spheres. We publish pieces written by outside contributors with a wide range of opinions, which don’t necessarily reflect our own. Learn more or join us as a community member!
Share your comments below. Please read our commenting guidelines before posting. If you have a concern about a comment, report it here.

You might also like...

Community//

3 Easy Ways to Live Sustainably this Plastic Free July

by Jennifer Hakim
Community//

The Plastic Problem (And What You Can Do About It)

by Deb Moher

Sign up for the Thrive Global newsletter

Will be used in accordance with our privacy policy.

Thrive Global
People look for retreats for themselves, in the country, by the coast, or in the hills . . . There is nowhere that a person can find a more peaceful and trouble-free retreat than in his own mind. . . . So constantly give yourself this retreat, and renew yourself.

- MARCUS AURELIUS

We use cookies on our site to give you the best experience possible. By continuing to browse the site, you agree to this use. For more information on how we use cookies, see our Privacy Policy.