UK-based company and 2022 Earthshot Prize winner, Notpla, is preventing plastic waste from entering our waterways and landfills by using seaweed to create an alternative to plastic packaging.
What if the solution to ocean plastic pollution is actually within the ocean itself? That’s what London-based company Notpla has discovered, by using seaweed as an alternative to plastic to create new kinds of packaging. Using different varieties of algae and seaweed for raw materials, Notpla is able to create packaging that is 100% biodegradable, suitable for a wide range of different uses, and even edible. We had the wonderful opportunity to visit Notpla's headquarters in December of 2021, and in the time since, the team at Notpla have been able to create products that will truly save the Earth!
So, what can seaweed do?
Notpla was founded in 2014 by university roommates Rodrigo Garcia Gonzalez and Pierre Pasilier. One of their first breakthrough products was the Ooho, an edible "bubble" designed to hold liquids like condiments or drinks, to replace wasteful condiment sachets and plastic drink bottles.
The Ooho can be eaten or thrown away in home compost, where it will break down completely within only a few weeks. In 2019, Notpla partnered with the London Marathon to provide Ooho’s full of water to runners, as they were both portable and prevented thousands of plastic bottles or cups from being strewn along the streets of London. It was an instant success!
One of the biggest challenges for companies like Notpla who are working to create alternatives to plastic is being able to compete with the low up-front cost of plastic, as plastic is still one of the cheapest forms of packaging available for manufacturers today. Luckily, pressure from consumers is making some companies take notice of more sustainable or even biodegradable options.
With their incredible products, Notpla was able to secure a partnership with food delivery service giant JustEat, to develop packaging solutions for takeaway boxes and cartons. It’s a little-known fact that most paper takeaway boxes are lined with a plastic coating or packed with nasty chemicals known as PFAs in order to protect the box from dissolving due to the water and oil in food. Notpla was able to develop a barrier alternative made of seaweed, making their takeaway boxes as biodegradable as the food inside them. As a result, Notpla won the Innovation of the Year in the UK Packaging Award in 2022, as well as the Innovation Award from The Responsible Packaging Expo Awards in 2022.
Always thinking about seaweed's incredible capabilities, Notpla is continuing to develop exciting new products that think outside the box, and that have the potential to revolutionise the way we package and ship products. A few examples of this include Notpla Paper, made from fibres that are left behind once the gelatinous parts of seaweed are extracted, enabling them to use the entire plant; and Notpla Film, a thin, flexible film that’s perfect for replacing many different kinds of plastic bags or thin plastic packaging. It’s no surprise that Notpla was also one of the five winners awarded £1 million, or about $1.2 million, at the 2022 Earthshot Prize, in the Building a Waste Free World category.
Seaweed is the Future
With seaweed available throughout our world's oceans, Notpla plans to utilise localised sources of seaweed as they expand operations to more countries, meaning that they can be less reliant on importing seaweed, as well as cut down on transport costs and emissions.
The patented, relatively small machines that create some of Notpla’s products are made to design modular systems that can be as large or as small as needed, currently allowing them to supply and export the product. As the company expands too, this will become especially useful in enabling production to take place across the globe, without the need for vast amounts of space.
Innovating green companies like Notpla are helping to stop up to eight million tons of plastics from reaching the ocean every year, while also providing real-world sustainable solutions to the packaging needs most businesses have in order to keep their products moving out to customers. Notpla proves that with determination and experimentation, we can continue to build a better, more sustainable future for everyone!