Don't you forget about sea(weed)

Picture this, it’s summer in the late 1950’s. You’re relaxing on a plastic covered sofa in your fabulous polyester two piece sipping a White Russian and chatting to your husband about purchasing a newly released toy for the kids called ‘Lego.’ Little did you know that a whopping seventy years later most of those items would be decorating the inside of a landfill site while you swash down your White Russians in a nursing home. Some plastics have been around longer than David Attenbourgh and haven’t been quite as philanthropic (maybe with exception of Eco-warrior Barbie). According to National Geographic out of the 8.3 billion metric tonnes of plastic the world has produced, 6.3 billion metric tonnes have become plastic waste.

However, a tiny glimmer of hope twinkles on the horizon. Companies like Notpla, a London startup are offering up an alternative to plastic made from seaweed. The plastic-like casing is edible and biodegrades within six weeks, like a fruit or vegetable. The membrane is made from seaweed farmed in northern France then ground down into a powder and mixed into a gloopy fluid which dries to form a plastic like substance. Notpla only sells wholesale to eco-friendly companies at the moment but the potential for a global rollout of a biodegradable plastic substitute is a game changer for the future of our planet.

Between the greenwashing of products, new ‘superfoods’ being sold to us every month and the word ‘sustainable’ being chucked around like a basketball by every company under the sun it’s understandable to chalk seaweed up as another fad. However, the environmental credentials of seaweed tell an entirely different story. As a zero-emissions product seaweed has some of the most exciting climate changing solutions out there. Most kelps grow very fast, some up to 1metre per day without land, fertiliser or water (apart from the water it grows in. Seaweed also sequesters carbon at an incredible rate and in large amounts, especially compared to the equivalent land based forest.  It can soak up pollution in the ocean and contribute to regenerating lost ocean eco systems, therefore helping to replenish depleted fish stocks. Because brown seaweed is so plentiful, just 0.3% could replace all the PET plastic bottles used every year. Stick that in your plastic pipe and smoke it.

Evoware is another company replacing it’s plastic packaging for seaweed. As an Indonesian startup, with backing from the Ellen McCarthur foundation, Evoware boasts a range of food wrappings and sachets made out of a seaweed based material that can be dissolved and eaten. You can eat your burger and then help yourself to the wrapping around it. Future steps for Evoware could be to make a sticky toffee pudding flavour wrap, that way we could have dinner and desert in one? Just a suggestion.

The race for a viable replacement to plastic is on. The Ellen McCarthur foundation reports that by 2050 the worlds oceans will contain more plastic than fish. However, it’s not just packaging that seaweed could potentially change the face of, the world is slowly beginning to come around to using seaweed as an alternative for polyester, biofuel, cosmetics, food and even surfboards. Charlie Cadin, a young surfer from Jersey has made the worlds first seaweed surfboard. Charlie gathered 45 kilograms of an invasive sea lettuce that harms the ecosystem of his local bay and dried it out and ground it into a powder. After working on the correct formula Cadin mixed it with some chemicals to make a foam like substance. The finished product is around half a kilo heavier than a normal board but apparently paddles ‘really nicely’ according to Charlie.

Adam chatted with Charlie about his surfboard made from seaweed earlier this year on Adam's Ethical Pages Podcast, listen here.

The Ellen McCarthur foundation
National Geographic

Photos; Xavi Cabrera, Hermes Rivera