Category winners take inspiration from nature

Article by Kerry Hebden

Seaweed: Providing a natural alternative to single-use plastic packaging

PACKAGING solutions made from seaweed, and rocks that lock away CO2 are just two of this year’s Earthshot Prize winners revealed by the competition’s founder, Prince William.

Launched in 2021, and with an aim to fund five ground-breaking solutions each year until the end of the decade to help fix some of the greatest environmental challenges facing our planet, the five winners were announced at a ceremony held in Boston, US, the hometown of President John F Kennedy, whose Moonshot push to see humans land on the Moon inspired the concept of Earthshot.

Taking the top prize in the “Building a Waste-free World” category, London-based startup Notpla has already made a start on weaning off humanity’s reliance on plastic. Around 380m t/y of plastic is produced and approximately 91% of that plastic is not recycled. Roughly half of that produced is destined for a single-use product, and the vast majority of plastic either ends up in landfills, in the oceans or is incinerated. However by using a natural alternative made from a globally-abundant and fast-growing underwater plant, plastic pollution could be drastically reduced.

That product is Notpla, a non-chemically modified, polysaccharide-based material made from seaweed, that the firm has used to create a number of different products including Notpla Ooho, Pipette, Pearls, Rigid, paper, film and coating.

Some of these are designed to replace single-use plastic packaging for liquids, such as the Notpla Ooho, Pipette, and Pearl, and some are used in place of traditional polystyrene products. For instance, Notpla coating has many of the same grease- and water-resistant qualities of traditional coatings used in takeaway food packaging, but as it is made from seaweed it will break down naturally without releasing any microplastics. Notpla paper is made from the fibres and biomass of seaweed after the gelatinous part is extracted, and Notpla film is designed to replace conventional fossil-derived, and bio-plastic based flexibles.

This article is adapted from an earlier online version.

Article by Kerry Hebden

Staff Reporter, The Chemical Engineer

Recent Editions

Catch up on the latest news, views and jobs from The Chemical Engineer. Below are the four latest issues. View a wider selection of the archive from within the Magazine section of this site.