After a University of Kentucky basketball game, clean-up crews at Rupp Arena collect about 8,000 plastic soft drink cups that go to the landfill.
But the Lexington Center announced on Thursday that Rupp is going green.
Concession stands are shifting to soft drink and beer cups made from a natural starch derived from corn, rice or potatoes that will decompose in landfills like food does.
The transition to environmentally friendly cups began four weeks ago for drinks served in 16-, 24- and 32-ounce containers, plus 7-ounce wine cups.
"As we run out of old cups, we're integrating the new ones," Owen said.
Sports fans and concert-goers already are buying hot food and beverages served in containers made from bagasse, derived from sugar cane pulp.
The only difference customers might notice is that the starch-based cups are clear, where the plastic was white.
An advantage for the environment is that the new Rupp cups do not release toxic materials into the ground as they break down.
The biodegradables generate 69 percent fewer greenhouse gases in manufacturing than cups made from petroleum-based material. And the manufacturer of the resin for the cups buys wind- and solar-powered energy to run its plant, thus reducing greenhouse emissions.
The cost increase for the biodegradable is "very slight," Owen said. He expects the cost to come down as the demand for the resin-based products increases.
"This summer, plastic and styrofoam containers went up considerably when oil hit $150 a gallon," he said.
The green cups could be composted if a commercial compost facility were to open in the region. "We can make that decision to compost if we have that opportunity," Owen said.