Inside sustainable innovation in the UEFA Champion’s League


Both the UEFA Women’s and Men’s Champion’s League Finals have been and gone, with Barcelona winning in Eindhoven and Manchester City emerging victorious in Turkey. Now more than ever there is a focus on sustainability for such occasions.

Stadia speaks exclusively with Mark Kirkham, senior vice president and chief marketing officer of global beverages at PepsiCo, about a range of initiatives it has organised in partnership with UEFA, as the international football competition works towards a goal of zero waste to landfill by 2026.

Could you better explain for me the smart technology utilised by TURN?

At the Champions Festival in Istanbul, PepsiCo is partnering with an innovative start-up, TURN. TURN is the world’s leading, scalable reuse system that uses smart technology to rid the planet of single-use plastic. TURN’s presence at the UCL Final’s Champions Festival this year will act as a test-and-learn activation connected to the Pepsi sampling stand to help support the circular economy. We partnered with turn as they educate and encourage a returnable revolution system, requesting consumers return empty cups for reuse, using considerably less plastic, and therefore leaving less waste. Any remaining waste from TURN is disposed of appropriately.

An aerial view of Philips Stadion ,where the UEFA Women’s Champion’s League Final was hosted (Photo: Adobe Stock)

TURN’s bins are not the average trash can. They are fitted with digital technology that recognize TURN cups and reject unwanted trash. The UCL Champion’s Festival will have 10 smart bins with QR codes to reward match attendees for recycling their items with opportunities to win product each time something is correctly recycled via the API TURN app. Whilst the TURN Reusable cups are Fitted with a patented digital tracking technology, these cups fit perfectly with other components of the TURN circular system. They have been designed to be easily stackable and fit in SMART bins for recollection and reuse. The UCL Champion’s Festival will have 48,000 reusable cups for sampling.

By downloading the TURN app, fans gain access to TURN’s rewards system. When the match attendees return their empty cup to a smart collection bin, by scanning the cup on the bin’s entry slot, they get points towards rewards like discounts, prize draws and so on. They can track of their rewards using the TURN app. Plus, everyone who disposes a cup within our bin will be rewarded with a smartphone wallpaper and there will also be a daily draw to reward fans with UCL Final tickets. We hope that this ongoing rewards system will help us to see fan implement sustainable behaviour changes over time.

“Work towards the ultimate goal of having all UCL finals be zero waste to landfill by 2026.” If successful, does this have potential application across all major sporting tournaments? What further goals are there for this partnership?

A: PepsiCo’s ambition is to see a shift in consumer behavior towards more sustainable practices. The overall goal is for the new circular economy guidelines to be regularly implemented from 2026, with zero waste to landfill becoming a requirement in the selection of the hosting stadium(s), and across all upcoming UEFA events. Our hope is for returnable cups and deposit schemes to become the norm, which will serve as a great step forward in this goal. The success at this year’s competitions will help us rollout the initiatives at future events on the global stage.

An aerial view of Ataturk Olympic Stadium, where the UEFA Champion’s League Final was hosted (Photo: Adobe Stock)

What do you see as the limiting factors to the scheme?

The initiative is reliant on sports fan’s willingness to engage with the scheme. As a brand, we can only guide fans towards implementing more sustainable practices and provide them with the means to do so. The adoption of more sustainable behaviours by fans will be the key to success of the current activations and we are thrilled to be able to play a role in encouraging consumers to do so.

By what percentage/metric are these cups expected to reduce single-use plastic?

TURN has successfully deployed reuse and waste management systems across more than 3,000 events globally, consistently achieving a 90%+ return rate and 100% award redemption.

“Fully recyclable, zero plastic and biodegradable fiber cups.” Is this PepsiCo’s own technology, or sourced from a partner?

It is sourced from a supplier called Foopak BioNatura. Cups are fully made of natural ingredients such as fibers, Starch and Calcium. The barrier to ensure these fully recyclable and fully biodegradable cups don’t disintegrate is provided by innovative aqueus coating that is using nano technology.

Could you provide more detail on the football pitches made using empty crisp packets?

Lay’s RePlay initiative began in 2021 in partnership with UEFA, to transform empty crisp bags into sustainable football pitches. The global initiative aimed to provide opportunities for local football players by offering educational sports programmes, mental health workshops, employability interventions and football fitness sessions.

Since the project launched, Lay’s RePlay has unveiled six football pitches in locations including South Africa, Brazil, the UK, the US, Italy and Mexico. The first pitch that opened was in Johannesburg, South Africa in June 2021.

Each playing surface is created with a shock-absorbing layer called Ecocept™, which is formed when reclaimed crisp packs are converted into rubberized pellets, with the South Africa pitch utilizing more than three million chip packages to create the pitch. We ensured that both the turf and the Ecocept™ layer being used are 100% recyclable, with each pitch producing up to 128 tons fewer greenhouse gas emissions than a standard synthetic pitch, a number we are immensely proud of as it helps us work towards our larger pep+ mission that puts sustainability and human capital at the center of what we do and how we do it.

What is the life span of the 100% recyclable turf and shock pad layers used?

As part of our Lay’s Replay initiative, we ensure that both the turf and Ecocept™ layer are 100% recyclable at the end of their life span. Beyond the turf, Lay’s has committed to adopting a carbon compensation strategy that will ensure all pitches deliver a net zero carbon footprint over their life spans of an estimated 10 years.

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About Author


Benedict is editorial assistant, social media manager and staff writer across several aviation, automotive and performance technology titles published by Mark Allen Business. He is a graduate of the University of Southampton and spends his free time organising comedy shows, playing basketball loudly and guitar quietly.

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