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Seaweed startup wins innovation prize for kelp bioplastic

A UK company that makes packaging from seaweed has recently been awarded a grant of £1m via the Earthshot Prize. Established by Price William, the Earthshot Prize awards grants of £1m to five winners across five different categories aimed at solving the world’s most pressing climate issues in the next decade. The category ‘build a waste-free world’ was won by London startup NotPla.

NotPla create packaging solutions from a derivative of seaweed, using the bioplastic to coat things like takeaway boxes and coffee cups where plastic would normally be used. The coating is odourless and flavourless, and biodegrades fully in 4 – 6 weeks. For comparison, a plastic supermarket bag would take 1,000 years to degrade. Even then, the microplastic remains would just seep back into the water supply, and eventually the food chain. Check out this video below from NotPla’s wormery, demonstrating how quickly its bioplastic coating Ooho degrades alongside other organic and non-organic materials:

This obviously has huge implications for the fight against climate change, and we’re extremely happy to see that companies like NotPla are being awarded significant funding to develop their technology. People are waking up to the awesome potential of seaweed, and we’re delighted to see it! Seaweed has been called the hidden champion of the ocean, with uses including (but not limited to): food, cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, bioplastics, animal feed, fertiliser and biofuel.

From NotPla’s website:

We are on a mission to make packaging disappear, so having a positive impact is at the heart of every single thing we do. The UN Environment Programme estimates that only 9% of all plastic waste produced has been recycled. A further 12% has been incinerated. The remaining 79% has accumulated in landfills, dumps, or the natural environment. Thus, by harnessing the power of seaweed, we are developing solutions to the environmental pollution that results from single-use packaging. 

Besides, seaweed is one of the planet’s most abundant biomass sources, growing at a rate of up to one metre per day. Its production does not compete with food crops, requires no fertiliser or freshwater to produce and actively sequesters carbon dioxide. 

https://www.notpla.com/frequently-asked-questions/

NotPla are not the only company looking into plastic alternatives. In Norway, B’ZEOS are investigating brown-kelp based bioplastics:

Our oceans cover nearly 71% of our planet, and right now only 2% is being used. However, oceans have the potential to host an abundant amount of carbon-negative crops when used for seaweed farming. Seaweed plays a crucial role in the fight against climate change and ocean pollution. In many ways, seaweed is a miracle crop and an undermined feedstock for creating regenerative packaging solutions.

https://www.bzeos.com/product

Oslo-based company B’ZEOS are also developing flexible film packaging that can replace plastic. Like NotPla, the bioplastic packaging produced by B’ZEOS doesn’t have to be sent to a specialist plant for recycling. It can be composted at home, or even eaten!

The packaging products from B’ZEOS are home-compostable. They are so natural, that they can be thrown back to nature or even eaten up. Recyclability is not even a question, which means it is a true innovation for many sectors, including food & beverage, electronics, cosmetics, and pharma.

https://www.bzeos.com/product

Lofoten Seaweed are committed to using as little plastic as possible in our packaging. We are actively seeking a seaweed-based bioplastic solution for the small number of our products that are currently have plastic elements in their packaging. We’re currently working with B’ZEOS, awaiting the results of an experiment where a range of our products have been packaged in seaweed bioplastic and left to stand for the duration of their shelf lives. Once that time has elapsed, they will be tested for freshness, and we hope to move forwards with this bioplastic technology, removing plastic from our product range entirely.

Europe has 185,000km of coastline – that’s three times as much as the USA and twice as much as Russia! We’re also surrounded by cold, nutrient-rich water, and a population with a high concentration of entrepreneurs across the supply chain, with a focus on sustainability and green futures. When you put these elements together, it’s clear that we have the potential to lead the world in seaweed innovations like bioplastics, as well as its many other applications. We look forward to seeing what companies like NotPla and B’ZEOS do next, and encourage you to follow along!

Thanks to dezeen.com for our cover photo, and notpla.org for the video.

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