The UN Environmental Programme estimates the only 9% of plastic waste has been recycled,12% has been incinerated and 79% has accumulated in landfill or dumped into the natural environment Approximately 400 tons of plastic is produced annually! It is also estimated that there is 150 tonnes of of plastic waste in the ocean This is quite shocking, considering plastic in different forms, has been around since 1862!
Photo by Dustan Woodhouse on Unsplash
Plastic was invented by by an Englishman, Alexander Parkes in 1862 using cellulose. 45 years later, fossil fuel plastic was introduced using formaldehyde and coal by products. It became essential in our modern lifestyle, but In 1997, after 90 years, it was discovered by Charles Moore that plastic was destroying our oceans after he found the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. In a statement by WWF suggests that, by 2025 the Ocean will contain 1 tonne of plastic to every 3 tonnes of fish.
Those that are lucky enough to walk along on the beach will more often than not, see microplastics (of which we consume 5g per week in our food) and nurdles (larger balls of plastic) washed up on the tideline. This is ironic, as a few metres away lies, possibly the best answer to this horrendous pollution issue .... Seaweed!
Brown seaweed is a primary producer, meaning it gets its energy from the sun and non living sources. It grows a metre a day, so can be harvested safely and sustainably, which doesn't harm the environment. It produces 90% of the oxygen in the atmosphere and 80% of the world's organic matter. Not bad for a plant that used to terrify the living daylights out of me if it touched my feet when I was swimming!
Seaweed has been used for several years to replace plastics in fast food manufacturing. A biopolymer coating has been created from sodium alginate, derived from seaweed, which can also be used as a thickening agent, emulsifier, stabiliser, and texture improver. Seaweed farming has become big business in the Philippines. It has not only helped uplift the socio-economic condition of families, but has built a sense of community and empowerment of women who farm. It has given them the opportunity to buy food and send their children to school.
With biopolymer coatings, there is a chemical modification process to enhance grease and oil resistance. they are Polylactic Acid (PLA) and Poliyhydroxyalkanoates (PHA) which are chemicals found in milk, cellulose and collagen. While this process has the potential to change the way we make packaging, there is now an EU Directive crack down issued on the single use of plastic including a number of biobased and biodegradable materials such as PLA, PHA, & PVOH. Notpla is now one of a few solutions not considered a plastic by this directive.
NOTPLA Is a London based start up business That have recently won an Earthshot Prize in the "Build a Waste Free World" Category. They are a UK Plastic Alternative Developer. Started in Hackney by 2 students, Rodrigo Garcia Gonzalez and Pierre Paslier.
Notpla is a non-chemically modified polysaccharide (carbohydrate) based material, which is classified as a natural, organic substance by EU Law. Notpla first developed an edible bubble made from seaweed and NO chemicals called an Ooho that could hold water and has been used at the London Marathon. They then went on to make plastic free coatings for the fast food industry, and are now making Notpla Rigid which is non plastic that can be used for everyday and industrial purposes, and paper made from the more fibrous parts of the seaweed plant which is a by product from processing.
All of their products are chemical free and can be home composted and industrially composted, they are also fully recyclable, vegan, PFA Free, microplastic free, and don't compete with land for crops, The future of bio plastics is looking great, but the work to be done to clear our oceans is still immense.