In this article, we'll share more about the incredible power of seaweed and explain further how we use it at Notpla in saving the world from single-use plastic packaging!
1. What is seaweed?
Seaweed is a type of algae.
Algae are aquatic organisms that contain chlorophyll and carry on photosynthesis. Together with cyanobacteria (a bacteria found in water), they produce almost 50% of the oxygen in the air we breathe!
Algae are highly diverse, and they are split into two categories:
- Microalgae, which are too small to be seen by the naked eye
- Macroalgae, which are large algae, are the ones commonly called seaweed.
Seaweed comes in many shapes and many colours.
Seaweed is divided into three main groups - green, red, and brown.
All seaweed species contain chlorophyll A, a green substance that enables the photosynthetic process. Its green colour is often masked by other pigments in the seaweed, resulting in brown, yellowish, and red tones that we see with our eyes.
2. The secret powers of seaweed
Seaweed is one of nature's most renewable resources.
Seaweed is critical in the ocean as it creates a habitat for other organisms. It is also one of nature's most renewable resources since it grows rapidly and does not require water or fertilizer. For instance, some seaweed species, such as kelp, can grow up to 1 meter per day.
Seaweed is essential to help fight climate change.
Seaweed is also an under-appreciated hero in the fight against climate change. It actively sequesters CO2, which leads to the deacidification of our oceans! Let's take a closer look at how this works...
- How does seaweed actively sequester CO2?
The oceans are a massive carbon sink, actively taking in nearly 130 billion tons of CO2 annually. Through photosynthesis, seaweed converts dissolved CO2 and sunlight into organic matter and oxygen. In fact, coastal marine systems can absorb carbon at rates up to 50 times greater than can land-based forestry.
During its growth, nearly 50% of the seaweed breaks off, with most of that drifting out to sea. This material sinks, and up to 50% of the carbon in that biomass is permanently sequestered in sediments on the bottom of the ocean.
- How does seaweed deacidify the ocean?
CO2 in the atmosphere dissolves directly into seawater, lowering the pH and making it acidic. This process, called ocean acidification, is causing serious problems for marine life. Mainly, it is causing various organisms' shells and skeletons made from calcium carbonate to dissolve. The more acidic the ocean, the faster the shells dissolve.
Macro-algae are ecosystem engineers that shape their physical and chemical surroundings. They soak up CO2 during the day through photosynthesis and thereby increase the pH level of seawater locally.
We can encourage seaweed's ability to sequester CO2 by having more seaweed in our oceans! Seaweed farms are a great way to do this. They help to improve water quality, provide food and habitat for marine life, and act as a natural barrier against erosion.
Seaweed provides multiple product applications.
Seaweed is a hidden ingredient in many products, so you will find macroalgae in your cosmetics, food, packaging and much more. Currently, we are in the early stages of discovering just how extensive the capabilities of seaweed actually is, and only just scratching the surface of the human and environmental health benefits it could provide. Seaweed-loving industries include; food, supplements, animal feed, pharmaceuticals, bio-fuel and many more. The potential of seaweed is endless, so our team is excited to be part of the macroalgae revolution!
3. Seaweed, the foundation ingredient of Notpla
What is Notpla?
Notpla is the name of our company and our material. We are on a mission to make packaging disappear. We provide sustainable alternatives to single-use packaging through seaweed and plants.
Using only seaweed and plants, our material shares similar status with natural organic materials, and can claim to be 'biodegradable', 'compostable' and 'home compostable'. Just like a fruit peel!
Notpla, a circular and sustainable material
Seaweed-based material can have many of the packaging properties needed in applications that currently utilise fossil-based plastics (eg. transparency, lightweight, being squeezable).
But unlike fossil-based plastics or bioplastic, seaweed's unique qualities enable Notpla to create circular and sustainable materials:
Just eat it… Among the unique properties that our material have, one of them is to be…edible! Our iconic product Ooho – was created for drinks and specifically designed to be 100% edible. Some of our other products like Notpla Film are also suitable for consumption. We're doing a lot with foods and edible packaging – where you can eat the product inside along with the film. Our other products like Coating or Seaweed Paper are not designed to be eaten… at least by humans. Worms, on the other hand, love eating them!
…Or compost it! In line with the new EU Single-Use Plastic Directive (which aims to ban synthetic materials such as PLA, PHA and other bioplastics), Notpla's products easily biodegrade in nature in just 4-6 weeks without the need for industrial composting or special conditions.
Where do our seaweed come from?
- Working mainly with European suppliers
We work primarily with European suppliers, as locally as possible, to keep our footprint as low as possible. As UK seaweed farming is growing, we are steadily building partnerships farms. Our current UK partner is Car-Y-Mor, a seaweed farm on the coast of Wales. At the same time, we strive to work with seaweed partners from many different parts of the world so that at scale we can have local raw materials while maintaining homogeneous performances.
- Selecting the farming method for our sourcing
Seaweed can be both farmed and wild-harvested. We encourage the farming method for our seaweed sourcing. Whilst farming needs further infrastructure, there is more potential to scale sustainably. Farms can grow more seaweed, regenerate ecosystems, as well as stimulate coastal economies.
When wild harvesting the seaweed, it's important to keep biodiversity and ecosystems intact. That's why we work only with partners that have the highest sustainability credentials so that seaweed can have the maximum positive impact. As we mentioned already, seaweed grows fast, and farmers harvest seaweed within strict quotas, maintaining the ecosystem.
To conclude, seaweed is a natural resource that can help us reduce the amount of single-use plastics we've been using for decades. It has many properties and uses, including as a packaging material. To discover more about Notpla and our impact on the environment, we invite you to read our other blog articles on Making Waves. In addition, you can also have a look at our Impact page where you will be able to access many insightful documents!
Ole G. Mouritsen, 2013, Seaweeds Edible, available and sustainable, Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press
Introduction to Algae, an online non-credit course authorized by University of California San Diego, offered through Coursera