Algae Edible Packaging As An Alternative To Plastic

According to an OECD report, at the current rate, the amount of plastic waste will triple by 2060

How to avoid packaging drinks and food in plastic and thus reduce soil and ocean pollution? In London, a startup co-founded by a Frenchman has found a solution: edible or naturally biodegradable packaging, made from seaweed. An idea that earned the startup Notpla this year to be selected among the fifteen finalists for the Earthshot prize, created by Prince William to reward innovations that are good for the environment or the fight against climate change.

Notpla’s adventure began in a small London kitchen. The French Pierre Paslier and the Spaniard Rodrigo Garcia Gonzalez, both students at the Royal College of Art in London to train in the design of innovative products, sought to create packaging that is not harmful to the environment.

“Packaging engineer at L’OrĂ©al, I was developing plastic packaging solutions, shampoo bottles, cream jars, and quickly I realized that I wanted to work on solutions rather than creating more plastics that end up in the environment,” says the 35-year-old Frenchman.

The two students are trying to design packaging from natural and biodegradable materials, unlike plastics from the petrochemical industry.

Justin TALLIS / AFPseaweed packaging

After testing different plants, “we found seaweed extracts, and we realized that we could create solutions that were very close to what we could find in nature, and even possibly edible” , remembers Pierre Paslier.

One of its latest innovations is transparent packaging for dry products, such as pasta. Algae “have incredible assets”, explains Pierre Paslier. They “grow very quickly, some of the algae we use in our labs grow almost a meter a day. (…) On top of that, there is no need for any human activity to make them grow, no need to add drinking water or fertilizer,” he says.

And “algae have been there for billions of years, so wherever our packaging ends up, nature knows very well how to deconstruct and reuse these materials without creating pollution”, boasts the engineer. For now, Notpla’s products remain more expensive than plastic ones, but by starting to mass-produce their box for take-out meals, the extra cost has been reduced to 5-10%. According to a recent OECD report, at the current rate, the amount of plastic waste will triple by 2060, to one billion tonnes per year, much of which pollutes the oceans, threatening many species.