UK startup behind algae-based packaging deals for Earthshot glory – Digital Journal

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UK start-up Notpla makes naturally degradable, and even edible, packaging from algae and other marine plants – Copyright AFP Justin TALLIS

Mary Heuclin

A British start-up founded by two alumni from France and Spain, which makes biodegradable packaging from marine plants, aims to seal royal approval this week when Prince William presents his latest Earthshot Awards.

Notpla, whose mantra is “we make packaging disappear,” is competing with 14 other companies for five prestigious awards, which will be presented by the prince and a star-studded cast at a ceremony in the US city of Boston on Friday.

In its second year, the initiative to reward innovative efforts to combat climate change will be broadcast on TV in the UK and US on Sunday and Monday respectively, as well as online.

Each of the five winners will receive a grant of 1 million pounds (1.2 million dollars).

The Notpla co-creator, who instead of using environmentally harmful plastics makes various naturally degradable, and even edible, packaging from algae and other marine plants, says they have already felt the benefits of competition.

“Just being there is a huge boost for our visibility,” French co-founder Pierre Paslier, 35, told AFP.

“So it’s already a great asset to be part of the finalists and I think if we do win, it will be on a much bigger scale.”

Along with their former student and Royal College of Art co-founder Rodrigo García González, 38, the duo began their green business venture in a small London kitchen.

They were intent on finding natural alternatives to petrochemical-based packaging, testing a variety of materials from tapioca seeds to other starches.

– ‘family’ of algae –

“Eventually, we found seaweed,” explained Paslier, a former packaging engineer for French cosmetics giant L’Oreal, who created Notpla with González in 2014.

“Now we have flexible film, we make algae paper, we have rigid materials. So it’s really the start of a family of seaweed-based technologies that can hopefully help us stop using so much plastic.”

He said that their early exploits in the kitchen eventually led to the secretly formulated creation of “Ooho”.

An edible bubble membrane made from seaweed, containing water, sports drinks, or other flavored liquids, including cocktails and sauces, is marketed as a replacement for single-use plastic cups, bottles, and sachets.

With a flavor similar to a jelly-like candy, it can be consumed whole, like a cherry tomato, or in a larger bag, making it ideal for sporting events and festivals.

It has been used extensively in marathons across the UK, including the 2019 London race.

Viral interest online has helped attract investor attention, with Notpla rapidly expanding to more than 60 employees and on the verge of manufacturing its products on an industrial scale.

Production of “Ooho” takes place at the firm’s offices in a large warehouse, a stone’s throw from Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in East London.

Notpla’s young and growing team also have labs there as they continue to develop new algae-based products.

– ‘Highly renewable’ –

Among the latest results: a naturally biodegradable coating that protects takeout boxes from grease and liquids.

The company now supplies industry giant Just Eat in Britain and five other European countries.

It also supplied the packaging for all food sold during the women’s European football championship final at London’s Wembley Stadium in July.

Another of its innovations is a transparent container for dry products, such as pasta.

Paslier noted that while his products may currently cost more than plastic alternatives, the latter’s selling price does not take into account “the impact on social ecosystems, human health or marine life.”

“This is basically going to be paid [by] the next generations and that does not enter into the price of the plastic that is bought today in the market”, he added.

“So what we want is to be the most affordable and sustainable packaging solution that takes into account its lifetime costs.”

Paslier believes seaweed may become the most affordable packaging option, largely due to its rapid growth rate that can exceed one meter (3.3 feet) per day in the laboratory.

“It’s a very, very renewable resource,” he added, noting that it doesn’t require fresh water or fertilizer.

His appearance is certainly timely.

A recent OECD report found that, at current rates, worldwide plastic waste will triple by 2060 to one billion tons per year, much of which will pollute the oceans and threaten many species.

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