A brand-new EU directive – the Single-Use Plastics directive (“SUP”) – came into force on July 3rd 2021. Wait, hold on! I know some 50% of you already dropped off upon seeing the words “EU” and “directive”. But the rest of you, please bear with me, this is a good one!

Written by: Jani Puroranta. General Manager Ecological Packaging at Colombier
Published on: Aug 20, 2021

The marine battle

The SUP directive is targeted at products, that are most likely to end up as marine litter. You know, plastic bottles, take-away cups, beer can rings, straws, etc.  and any other trash you find on the sea floor all over the world. I am personally a huge fan of watching marine life. I enjoy scuba diving, snorkelling or simply swimming in the ocean and observing the fauna and flora. Instead of plastic, I would much rather feed the marine animals some watermelon like I do here at the Similan Islands National Park in Thailand.

Much of this marine litter is so unnecessary. Fish nets are perhaps a tough nut to crack, but what is the excuse for water bottles or take-away cups on the sea floor? Of course, human behaviour is to blame for not recycling this litter properly. But still much of the single-use packaging manufactured in Europe are made of materials that are difficult to recycle or their effective recycling rates are very poor.

Consider these facts:

  • Only 14% of plastic packaging is collected for recycling.
  • When additional value losses in sorting and reprocessing are factored in, only 5% of material value is retained for a subsequent use. (Yeah, so much for the environmental friendliness of recycling plastic!)
  • Plastics that do get recycled are mostly recycled into lower value applications that are not again recyclable after use.
  • The recycling rate for plastics in general is even lower than for plastic packaging, and both are far below the global recycling rates for paper (58%) and iron and steel (70–90%).
  • In addition, plastic packaging is almost exclusively single-use.

These abysmal figures are not mine. They come from a study done by the plastic industry itself!

A turtle solution

Therefore, it is great that the SUP directive put a total ban on certain plastic products like plastic straws, earbuds, cutlery, and plates. The directive further mandated, that plastic-lined take-away cups require a “sad turtle” marking on them to warn the consumer about their plastic content. What many don’t know is that a traditional paper cup is made not only from paperboard, but also contains 5-20% plastic (typically polyethylene). This plastic is lined on the inner surface of the cup to act as barrier between the paperboard and the liquid inside. Just imagine if you poured hot water on some regular copy paper – without a proper water barrier, this would quickly end up in a catastrophe. So, a barrier is necessary, but the question is, does the barrier really have to be made of plastic?


Some fizzy stuff, that I bought at my local gas station. Proper “sad turtle logo” applied due to plastic lining inside on the surface of the paperboard.

Will this logo save the turtles?

So, can this logo save the turtles? I think not. Even if people notice the logo, they soon get used to it. The “sad turtle logo” is a good thing only if it starts acting as a constant reminder to the consumers, that alternatives to a plastic product do exist. But first and foremost, consumers need to demand that their preferred coffee shops, gas stations, supermarkets, etc. seek these alternatives. This is not a cost issue as the price difference between a traditional plastic-lined cup and the new alternative – a non-plastic, compostable, and recyclable take-away cup – is just a couple of cents per cup. It is a question of doing the right thing.

Discover our plastic-free solution

At Colombier, we care about the future. Therefore we are now focusing on an environmentally friendly world with our newest technology: EcoBarrier™. Thanks to our EcoBarrier™ technology, your to-go cups can be plastic-free as defined by European Union’s SUP Directive. But most of all: it helps us to save the marine life. Curious to our solution? Get in touch with us, or discover our solution by yourself. We are more than happy to provide you a sample!