The Age of Seaweed
Worrying about our collective addiction to plastics is a bit of a hobby at Global Property Scene. Plastic is ubiquitous in the modern world, acting as packaging for everything from water to toys, and it is not easily recycled unlike paper or metal. Consequently, we just bin it instead with barely a thought and we are on course for the sea to contain more plastic than fish by 2050.
Along with cutting our meat intake, moving towards electric cars and increasing our renewable energy capacity, reducing our plastic waste must be urgently addressed to safeguard the future of the planet – and it seems that people are starting to take action.
Following a report in the Guardian this week that supermarkets in the UK produce 800,000 tonnes of plastic waste a year – half of all UK household plastic waste – a cross-party group of 200 MPs is demanding that supermarkets scrap plastic packaging entirely. Of all the supermarkets, only Iceland has so far pledged to eliminate plastic from its own-brand products. Of the rest, only Aldi would publicly release its plastic waste figures. There is a long way to go.
Another positive step comes from Coca-Cola which pledged this January to collect and recycle 100% of the packaging it sells by 2030. Given that Greenpeace estimates Coca-Cola produces at least 110 billion single-use plastic bottles annually, it is clearly a good thing that this pledge is being made.
However, rather than investing enormous amounts of money in innovative new collection and recycling technologies and schemes, would it not make more sense to try and find an alternative for plastic? Rather than maintaining the expensive and environmentally destructive status quo, why don’t we try and do something better even if it is a bit more difficult?
But what could we replace plastic with?
The latest contender to the crown is seaweed. A seemingly innocuous marine bloom, seaweed has many attractive qualities. It is cheap and easy to produce; it is available on every coastline; it doesn’t require fresh water or fertiliser to grow; it contains a gelatinous substance called agar which can be harvested and formed into shapes; it degrades naturally in four to six weeks when discarded and doesn’t leave behind micro particles of plastic which are impossible to remove from the environment.
This last point is a particularly interesting one. Currently we have what is known as a ‘shelf-life gap’ – the difference between the biodegradability of a container and whatever is in it. When you buy a plastic punnet of peaches or plums the fruit inside will degrade at least 1,000 years before its packaging. Whenever you throw away a straw you are creating litter which will be around in the next millennium.
If everyday items can be made from seaweed then that would be an extremely beneficial thing. Here are three companies exploring this, and other uses of seaweed, and producing products for the market:
Indonesia is defined by its coastlines and oceans but is the world’s second biggest contributor of plastic waste to the ocean annually. Evoware wants to do something about that through the development and sale of degradable seaweed-based packaging. Their product dissolves in warm water, is 100% biodegradable and works as excellent fertiliser for plants.
With a shelf life of up to two years – assuming it is kept dry – this is a product which is built for the long haul. Why throw a burger wrapper or sauce sachet away when you can eat it instead and get the benefits of this nutritious product which is high in fibre, vitamins and minerals?
Skipping Rocks Lab
Another company looking to replace plastic packaging with an edible seaweed alternative is Skipping Rocks Lab, based in London. Their first product is called Ooho – flexible spheres which are full of water (or any other liquid) and are designed to revolutionise the ‘water on the go’ market.
Each sphere is fully biodegradable, and produces five times less carbon and uses nine times less energy than an old fashioned plastic bottle. Not only is it less polluting than plastic, it is also cheaper to make.
Skipping Rocks Lab plans to become the world’s number one producer of seaweed-based packaging. Their product can only be found at events for now, but production is set to ramp up in the near future.
Greenwave aims to support the next generation of ocean farmers who are looking to mitigate climate change, restore ecosystems and facilitate a new ‘blue-green’ economy. The company is trying to achieve this goal in a way which is so simple that it qualifies as brilliant.
Their ‘3D ocean farming’ concept is a vertical polyculture farming system which grows a mixture of seaweeds and shellfish. This method sequesters carbon, rebuilds reefs and uses the entire water column which means high yields can be achieved with a small footprint. In addition, this system requires no input which makes it one of the most sustainable forms of food production on the planet.
A single acre can produce a quarter of a million shellfish and 10 tons of kelp, a crop Ben Smith, Greenwave’s founder, is keen on. A 2017 interview with Rolling Stone explains why:
"Kelp is like a gateway drug," Smith says, noting there are possibly thousands of other edible sea plants, many of them with more calcium than milk and more protein than red meat. Kelp can also be used in cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, fertilisers, livestock feed and biofuel, all while converting tremendous amounts of CO2 into oxygen.
"If you covered six percent of the ocean with our farms, you could feed the world and capture all of man's carbon”.
The crops from these ocean farms are used for food, animal feed, fertiliser, manufacturing and much more – find out what makes Greenwave so special here.