Notpla – The Future is not Plastic – It’s Seaweed

The 2020 EarthShot Prize has been awarded to Notpla (a play on Not Plastic) who are replacing plastic with products made from seaweed and other plants.

Co-founders and co-CEOs Pierre-Yves Paslier and Rodrigo García González met on an Innovation Design Engineering Masters at Imperial College London. Pierre had worked as a packaging engineer for L’Oreal in Paris and had seen first-hand both the excessive use of plastic and the lack of awareness about the problem’s caused by plastic packaging. They started, in their own kitchens, with the idea of fruit being a form of packaging that occurs in nature (think of  orange peel!). Mirroring nature, they used edible ingredients such as seaweed to explore building their own sustainable packaging.

Their creative thinking for packaging first hit the headline with the brilliant Glenlivet Capsule Collection where The Glenlivet whisky, London cocktail bar Tayēr + Elementary and Notpla got together to create a unique alcohol experience. Check out this one minute video – little wonder the product went viral!

After starting to work with one of the leading global takeaway platforms Just Eat on condiment sachets, Notpla moved on to creating takeaway boxes for them. In 2022 they manufactured one million boxes lined with a seaweed-based coating. They are designed to be water-resistant, greaseproof, recyclable and home-compostable. They will degrade within four weeks, and are intended to replace the familiar plastic-lined containers used in the industry. I don’t know about you, but one of the biggest turn offs for me of takeaway food is the excessive packaging and the waste involved, so I am delighted to learn that Ireland is among the five European countries that they have recently been rolled out to. Notpla hopes to replace over 100 million plastic coated containers in Europe over the next few years.

Notpla is not just innovating to help us reduce the amount of plastic we use. (If you need any reminder of the urgent need for that, check out the brilliant work of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation.) It is doing so by using a natural ingredient, seaweed, that is one of the planet’s most abundant sources of biomass (growing at a rate up to 1 metre per day). Its production does not compete with food crops, requires no fertiliser or fresh water to produce, and actively sequesters carbon dioxide at a rate twenty-times faster than trees.

Seaweed was identified as one of the potential solutions and innovations that can best solve the decade’s greatest challenges by the prestigious TIME 2030 Committee. As a non-executive board member of An Bord Iascaigh Mhara (The Irish Seafood Development Board) I have to admit to having a particular interest in the contribution seaweed can make to sustainability.

Notpla continues to successfully raise funds for its innovation and is reported to be currently developing and testing out further products, including crisp packets, pasta sachets that dissolve in water, and packaging for dry goods.

This is the fourth in a year-long series of weekly blogs by Jean Callanan telling stories of businesses and brands that are doing inspiring and innovative things in addressing climate change. Read the background thinking and the stories of Knorr Future 50 FoodsAn Post and Good on You.