Plastic is a widely popular synthetic or semi-synthetic material with various uses, but it degrades slowly regardless of its composition. Today, there is an estimated 150 metric tons of plastic waste in the ocean alone, with about 8 million metric tons more added each year. Even with its many uses, it also has many negative impacts on the planet that compelled people to create the bold idea of plastic made from seaweed as a formidable substitute.
The Plastic Problem
Plastic never really goes away. Created as a durable material that could stand the test of time, plastic is not biodegradable. Which means the material does not break down into smaller pieces as time passes. Unfortunately, people often use plastic just once and then dispose of it – there is approximately 33% of all plastic put to waste, including straws, water bottles, and plastic bags.
According to a study titled “Biobased Performance Bioplastic: Mirel” published in ScienceDirect’s Chemistry & Biology Journal, these disposed plastics remain in the environment for as many as 2,000 years, possibly longer. According to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, if people do not take action now, there will be more plastic than fish in the oceans by 2050. This alarming possibility is backed by other studies: the State University of New York at Fredonia, as well as the University of Minnesota School of Public Health, revealed that plastic fibers also contaminate water supplies all over the world.
Problems with Plastic
Plastic has a handful of other issues as well. According to a study by the Arizona State University Biodesign Institute titled, “Perils of Plastics: Risks to Human Health and the Environment,” it affects human health because of toxic chemicals, especially bisphenol-A (BPA), and additives used in the synthesis of plastics called phthalates. Nearly everybody has traces of these in the blood and tissues, and prolonged exposure could lead to birth defects, endocrine disruption, impaired immunity, and even certain cancers and other sicknesses.
It’s not just harmful to the human body. Toxic chemicals from plastic are contaminating soil and groundwater as well, polluting rivers and lakes. In addition to poisoning the environment, these chemicals also attract other pollutants and even threaten wildlife. A study published in Biological Sciences called “Plastics, the Environment and Human Health: Current Consensus and Future Trends” revealed that there are over 260 species, including turtles, fish, seabirds, mammals, and even invertebrates like plankton and other animals either ingest or end up entangled by plastic debris, sometimes even leading to their deaths.
With these and many other issues stemming from the use of plastic, what can mankind do to abate and eventually eradicate it?
Plastic Made from Seaweed, The road to a Plastic-Free Future
Many companies are starting to realize that a plastic-free future is not only a bold idea, but is also a realistic notion. However, many others are still opposed to or at least doubtful, most likely due to lack of awareness and the extreme costs involved.
Although we’re making strides, we still have a long way to go. Case in point: famous American coffee chain Starbucks alone is making about 4 billion cups this year. While they are primarily made of paper, they have a polyethylene coating, and their lids are still made of plastic. That’s nearly 50 million kilograms of plastic waste from just one coffee chain. In addition to the lids that are often left unrecycled, the cups’ plastic coating is impossible to recycle as well.
The obvious way to decrease the use of plastic is to use paper or glass alternatives. But there are also countless other plastic alternatives such as Bakeys Foods’ edible jowar spoons, Save Globe’s corn starch cutlery, and TrioCup’s all-paper origami style coffee cup. However, the underdog in the plastic alternative party is seaweed.
This brand new packaging technology reduces carbon emission and plastic waste, while maintaining seashore cleanliness. In addition to these environmental benefits, creating and using seaweed plastic allows seaweed farmers’ incomes and wellbeing to increase as well.
Companies Leading the Charge
Evoware, a sustainable company based in Jakarta, Indonesia collaborates with local seaweed farmers to create durable, eco-friendly seaweed-based packing products. Their line of products include edible food wraps, coffee sachets, and dry seasoning sachets, as well as biodegradable soap packaging.
Their seaweed-based packaging products are safe, and are 100% biodegradable, even doubling as a natural plant fertilizer. As a zero-waste product that’s safe to eat, Evoware’s seaweed packaging is even Halal-certified and contains high fiber, minerals, and vitamins.
Although both TrioCup and Evoware both won the Ellen MacArthur Circular Design Challenge, there are many others out there that vow to help address this ongoing plastic problem through sustainable means.
For instance, Skipping Rock Labs created a seaweed-based water pouch that can replace water bottles. The London-based company, founded by three design students, have created a membrane-like seaweed container that costs only two cents to produce. The fun part is, instead of throwing away the “wrapper”, people can eat it as the packaging is entirely organic.
New York-based company Loliware also launched their line of edible, biodegradable cups from agar, a material extracted from red seaweed as far back as 2010. Even AMAM, a collective of three Japanese designers, released a seaweed-based box for a perfume in 2016. Icelandic student Ari Jónsson also created agar-based bottles that automatically decompose once they are empty.
Future of Seaweed
Experts believe seaweed can take over plastic soon, as products made from it not only help save the environment, but also cut costs as well. Autonomous seaweed farms like those by New York-based startup GreenWave, are ready to help interested parties have more access to seaweed-based materials.
With many sustainable options around, seaweed is the material to beat. This bold idea will shake up many industries, as its use goes beyond just food and cutlery, providing a cleaner and better tomorrow for humanity and the environment.