Environment

Meet the inventors 'on a mission to make plastic disappear' – with seaweed

Seaweed could be the solution to our plastic pollution problem.

Two mean smile while holding sheets of seaweed up by their heads

Pierre Paslier (left) and Rodrigo Garcia Gonzalez have a novel approach to solving the scourge of plastic pollution. Image: Notpla

There are 400 million tonnes of plastic pollution produced globally each year, clogging up rivers and beaches or just burned and turned into thick, acrid smoke.

A third of all plastic produced is packaging. But what if all those cups and bottles just… rotted away? Notpla, a company recently awarded £1m from the Earthshot Fund, has one solution: packaging made from seaweed.

On first appearance, Notpla’s signature products look like a laundry detergent pod, a plastic pouch filled with liquid which fits in the palm of your hand.

Unlike the packs of soap, however, these pods are perfectly edible, made of a seaweed coating and filled with water, juice, diet Coke – whatever you can imagine. 

The pouch, called an “Ooho”, is unlikely to replace plastic bottles at the corner shop any time soon, but the technology is revolutionary and already being used at major sporting events and in a range of new products to get rid of plastic for good.

Margaux Degurre, Notpla’s marketing and communications lead, refers to the Ooho as a “bubble” made out of seaweed, but it’s perhaps more accurate to compare it to a scaled-down version of a bag of milk.

“It’s called the Ooho because it’s the reaction people had when they saw the bubble for the first time,” she laughs.

Notpla, an abbreviation “not plastic”, is now on a “mission to make plastic disappear” with their sustainable packaging.

notpla ooho pods
The pods can be filled with any liquid you can think of. (Credit: David Lineton)

As well as the Ooho, the company has branched out into other seaweed-based products, including a waterproof coating on cardboard food containers and a paper for packaging things like soap and make up – all of which is completely natural and biodegradable.

The coating can ensure that the waste generated by takeaway food containers is biodegradable instead of ending up in landfills as the majority of plastic packaging waste in the UK emanates from the food industry.

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Notpla already made a fundamental difference to the waste at the London Marathon in 2019, where they partnered with Lucozade to replace single-use plastic cups and bottles with 36,000 Ooho bubbles. 

And they have produced over two million takeaway boxes with their seaweed coating so far, with one million of them going to delivery company JustEat, and sales in Ireland, Austria, Germany, the Netherlands, and Poland – a great start but not quite enough for the company’s ambitions, Deguerre said.

“The ambition is to become a global company. Initially, we were focusing on the UK market in terms of replacing single-use plastics and now we are also working in Europe. In the future, we want to explore other continents such as the US and Asia, both of which are big contributors to plastic waste,” she explained.

The money from the Prince of Wales’s Earthshot Fund will be primarily used to bring more awareness to Notpla and alternatives to plastic.

But, the company also wants to heavily “invest in research and development” to generate even more ideas for seaweed-based products that can be used instead of plastic.

Deguerre said that Notpla’s co-founders started the company in order to find “a solution to the plastic crisis,” but acknowledged that they will not be the only ones with a solution.

She said, “We have to be optimistic about the future of climate change and the plastic crisis. We need plenty of innovative ideas and we are not the only ones with those ideas but we have big ambitions in paving the way towards a more sustainable, plastic-free future.”

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