Could seaweed revolutionize packaging?

seaweed as material for packaging

By replacing current packaging materials with seaweed, the world’s packaging waste and recycling problem could be revolutionized.

Estimates report that a massive 8 million tons of plastic waste end up in our oceans every year. By 2050, our marine environment will contain more plastic than fish unless something is done drastically to reduce this. In fact, it can take up to 1000 years for plastic to decompose, gradually breaking down into microscopic pieces, so small that traces of plastic have been found in organisms as tiny as zooplankton. In turn, microplastics find their way into the food chain that encompasses vast amounts of species, including humans! [1].

Seaweed, a game-changer making packaging edible

Overall, the use of seaweed in packaging has the potential to revolutionize the packaging industry. By providing a biodegradable and sustainable alternative to traditional plastics, it could help reduce the environmental impact of packaging and protect ecosystems and wildlife. Additionally, the use of seaweed in packaging could have economic benefits and help to drive costs down in the industry.

In particular, seaweed-based packaging as an eco-friendly vital alternative to plastic is quite feasible. Seaweed is naturally high in fibre and vitamins. The natural polysaccharides obtained from seaweed, such as alginates, carrageenan, ulvans, fucoidans, and laminarins are highly significant in the film-forming ability of seaweeds.

Another key benefit of using seaweed in packaging is that it is a fast-growing organism, thus it can be harvested quickly and in large quantities. This makes it a renewable resource that can be easily replenished. Seaweed grows within 45 days and can be harvested without the use of fertilizers or arable land. Additionally, the production of seaweed-based packaging has a much lower carbon footprint compared to traditional plastic packaging. In addition, it absorbs CO2 as it grows.

Seaweed can also be fermented and turned into packaging without any chemical processing. Also, the yeast residue can then be converted into animal feed. As it is biodegradable, it can break down without any harmful effects for nature if the packaging ends up in landfill or the sea.

There are also potential economic benefits to using seaweed in packaging. As it is a renewable resource, it can be produced at a lower cost compared to traditional plastic packaging. This could make algae-based packaging more competitive in the marketplace, potentially leading to a shift away from plastic packaging.

Pioneering companies in seaweed packaging

London-based Notpla company is as a pioneer of seaweed and the emerging sustainable packaging markets. Notpla – an abbreviation of ‘not plastic’ – is a non-chemically modified, polysaccharide-based material, classified as a natural, organic substance by EU law. Just like a fruit peel, Notpla can claim to be “biodegradable” and “home-compostable”. The most famous seaweed product that Notpla has developed is the Notpla Ooho, an edible bubble designed to replace single-use plastic packaging for liquids. On December 2, Notpla won the 2022 Earthshot Prize, a £1,000,000 global environmental prize to discover, accelerate and scale ground-breaking eco-solutions to repair and regenerate the planet, in the category of ‘Build a Waste-Free World”.

Evoware, an Indonesian start-up, produces biodegradable and compostable sachets and wrappings made of seaweed that dissolve quickly in water. Evoware’s edible packaging is environmentally friendly and nutritious as seaweed is rich in flavonoids, fiber, and antioxidants. Evoware has launched multiple products such as the Ello jello cups, seasoning sachets, burger wraps, single-serving instant coffee powder sachets, and also for packaging non-food products such as straws, sanitary napkins, soaps, and toothpicks. The Ello jello cups come in exciting flavors such as green tea, lychee, and orange. Evoware sources its seaweed locally from Indonesian farmers and hence improves the livelihood of seaweed farmers.

US-based Loliware deploys its proprietary SEA Technology™ to create its Blue Carbon straw, a 100% home-compostable, biobased, ocean-safe and plastic-free alternative, Designed to Disappear™. Loliware’s SEA Technology™ is universally compatible with existing machinery and therefore dramatically more scalable and affordable than other plastic-free alternatives.

US-based Sway harnesses the power of seaweed to create compostable replacements for single-use plastics. Sway is developing home-compostable, guilt-free packaging solutions for large corporations and small businesses alike.

Photo credit: Photo credit: Free Photo | Free photo close-up of seaweed texture