As innovators such as Notpla and B’ZEOS continue to prove, the potential uses for seaweed — including as plastic alternatives that are truly compostable and biodegradable — are endless.
Currently, the world produces more than 380 million tonnes of plastic a year, with 42 percent of this used for packaging. And the statistics on that plastic post-use are dismal: Only 9 percent of all plastic ever produced has been recycled, 12 percent has been incinerated and 22 percent has been otherwise mismanaged. Ironically, plastic was created to save the environment — creating a durable alternative to natural materials such as elephant ivory and tortoise shells. But as we well know, it has done the opposite and become one of our largest environmental threats — poisoning the earth, destroying global ecosystems and killing marine life.
But plastic became ubiquitous for a reason; so, finding alternatives that not only boast the advantages and functionality of plastic but don’t persist in the environment has proven no easy feat. With 175 nations vowing to end plastic pollution and the legally binding agreement underway, world leaders are eager to find viable ways to turn off the plastic tap and put an end to our toxic dependence on it.
Enter: Seaweed — which not only offers the world a plethora of practical applications, it could also be a game-changer in the fight against climate change. With the current rate of plastic packaging production not compatible with a sustainable future, material innovators Notpla and B’ZEOS are among those looking to seaweed as a viable alternative.
Image credit: Notpla
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Winners of both the Tom Ford Plastic Innovation Prize and the 2022 Earthshot Prize, London-based startup Notpla (as in “Not Plastic”) was founded by packaging designer Pierre-Yves Paslier and designer and architect Rodrigo García González, who met in an Innovation Design Engineering Masters program at Imperial College London. Notpla has developed a line of biodegradable, seaweed-based alternatives to plastic packaging that break down in 4-6 weeks.
“Seaweed is revolutionary in every aspect. For us, it is the perfect alternative to plastic; it’s what we use from beginning to end — even the elements that would normally go to waste — to create Notpla’s innovative products that disappear just like fruit,” Paslier told Sustainable Brands®.
Seaweed grows rapidly and abundantly without the need for freshwater or fertilizers; so, it can be cultivated on a large scale without putting any additional strain on natural resources or disrupting the environment.
Notpla’s seaweed-based packaging solutions come in a variety of forms. Notpla Coating has many of the same grease- and water-resistant qualities of traditional, plastic barriers that prevent items such as takeaway boxes and hot-beverage cups from being fully recyclable or biodegradable. Takeaway containers utilizing Notpla Coating are already available across eight countries in Europe; and its reach continues to expand, thanks to partnerships with companies such as delivery app Just Eat and UK-based foodservice wholesaler Bidfood.
In addition to the takeaway industry, Notpla’s edible Ooho bubbles are making on-the-go hydration easier; thanks to a partnership with Lucozade, they’ve appeared in vending machines in London gyms and were handed out to runners at two 2019 races — reportedly replacing 38,000 plastic bottles at the Netherlands’ Zevenheuvelenloop and 36,000 at the London Marathon. This year, Ooho bubbles replaced over 20,000 single-use plastic cups at the Gothenburg Half Marathon.
The company has also developed Notpla Paper — made from the fibers and biomass left behind after the gelatinous part of the seaweed is extracted — which is suited to many secondary packaging applications and enables a truly circular way of using the entire seaweed.
Paslier noted that one of Notpla’s biggest challenges is greenwashing — the introduction of an innovative, truly sustainable products in a market awash with dishonest solutions still requires legislative change for large-scale adoption.
“But it is a challenge we are persistently working on — leveraging our story and success to prove that it can be done. And although there remain steps to be taken from both a governmental and end-customer position, we can support in directing and informing our industry and audience on which these are,” Paslier asserts.
“The long-term goal for us is to become a leader in the sustainable packaging industry, to expand our portfolio of truly sustainable ‘Not Plastic’ solutions for packaging and disposables that come from nature and leave no trace behind,” he adds. “By working with the world’s leading consumer brands, we will put seaweed on the map and become a household name. With continued effort in educating people and making it easy to consume more responsibly, we can see a future where Notpla has replaced 1 billion single-use plastics.”
In the meantime, while the company primarily sources its seaweed from Car-Y-Mor, a seaweed farm on the coast of Wales, Notpla is working to support growth of the regenerative seaweed-farming industry throughout the UK and Europe by steadily building partnerships with seaweed farms.
Image credit: B'ZEOS
Meanwhile, Norwegian green-tech company B'ZEOS (the name reflects the company’s mission: Be Zero waste, Edible, Ocean-origin, Sustainable) is also using seaweed to develop novel, bio-based materials which it hopes will replace fossil-fuel-based plastic. Its seaweed-packaging pellets can be transformed into a variety of final products, making it compatible with conventional machinery. B’ZEOS says the processes used to make its 100 percent biodegradable and home-compostable material are energy efficient and do not require any toxic chemicals.
As Kela Feller, Communications & Partnerships Manager at B’ZEOS, told SB: “Seaweed is a really versatile crop. It doesn't require land use or freshwater to grow, it creates habitats for marine life, it sequesters carbon from the atmosphere and absorbs excess nitrates in the water, helping to combat ocean acidification — it's just a miracle crop!”
B’ZEOS is mainly focusing on food and beverage packaging; but Feller says its products can be suitable for many industries — including electronics, cosmetics and pharma. B'ZEOS is also developing flexible films, paper coatings, thermoformables and injection molding for various packaging applications.
The company says it secures its seaweed from one of the top regenerative seaweed growers in Europe, with operations in France and Norway; and as it scales, it is working to train more suppliers in Canada and Indonesia. B’ZEOS’ business model is based on paid pilots and services; once it enters the market with its final products, the company would like to sell the seaweed pellets directly to converters and packaging manufacturers.
B’ZEOS — which has already had two collaboration periods with Nestlé and has been awarded its first EU grant, PlastiSea — is hoping to be commercial by next year, with an initial focus on food packaging.