Processed seaweed is soon to become a viable alternative to the scourge of throwaway plastic containers currently polluting the earth, according to Pierre-Yves Paslier, the founder of UK-based Skipping Rocks Lab, the world’s first sustainable packaging company.
Writing in the latest issue of Wired magazine, Paslier—whose company launched the world’s first water packaging made of natural materials extracted from plants and seaweed—and which can be safely eaten—said that the world has already produced more than eight billion tonnes of plastic—and consigned 6.3 billion tonnes of it to landfill or the ocean.
“Plastic pollutes and is resource-intensive. However, a group of startups is looking for other ways to produce sustainable packaging,” he wrote.
Seaweed can grow at the rate of three meters (9.8 feet) per day, meaning that it is a truly never-ending source which will, he said, “emerge as an alternative raw material to oil.”
The technology is already well-developed, he continued, an a “quiet revolution is already taking place on the shores of the East China Sea, where the kelp industry is booming.”
Several startups are pioneering the use of seaweed in a wide range of applications including biofuel, cosmetics, food and pharmaceuticals.
In 2013, Paslier’s Skipping Rocks Lab introduced Ooho, an edible water-bottle made from brown seaweed, as an alternative to plastic bottles.
The spherical flexible packaging can also be used for other liquids including water, soft drinks, spirits and cosmetics, and its proprietary material is actually cheaper than plastic.
Two years later, New York-based Loliware launched its first range of “biodegr(edible)” cups made from agar, which is extracted from red seaweed—and is working on a straw made from the same material to replace the awful plastic straws which are now so common.
In 2016, three Japanese designers, known collectively as AMAM, unveiled a box for a perfume bottle made from seaweed. They are now working with British designer Max Lamb, who uses waste material to create furniture.
“Seaweed has many advantages as a raw material. It’s cheap, easy to harvest and extract and is available on every coastline,” Paslier said.
“Moreover, unlike the starch that bioplastics such as polylactic acid are made from, it doesn’t require fresh water or fertiliser to grow.
“Seaweed’s biggest potential lies in disposable packaging inspired by peelable fruits that have a biodegradable container.
“As well as being abundant—just 0.03 per cent of the brown seaweed in the world could replace all of the polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastic bottles we get through every year—it can solve what is known as shelf-life gap, the difference between the biodegradability of a container and that of what is in it.
“As an example, picture a plastic bottle of orange juice. The shelf life of the juice is about two days. Its PET plastic bottle will take more than 700 years to degrade.
“By contrast, seaweed packaging biodegrades in soil in four to six weeks. Unlike plastic, it doesn’t break down into micro-particles that are impossible to collect.”
In addition, he said, seaweed is also a powerful agent to reduce ocean acidity.
“This year, we will see seaweed-based products everywhere. And we will question how it was ever considered acceptable to simply throw away plastic bottles.”