Kelping the Planet

Lily Connors, Editor

Last week, the London Marathon  chose a radical new form of hydration: seaweed pouches. The London Marathon replaced over 200,000 plastic water bottles with  the pouches to reduce plastic waste, environmental pollution, and cleanup costs tremendously.

Ooho, the name of the seaweed pouches, are produced by Skipping Rocks Lab, a London based company. To access the water or sports drink inside, runners would bite into the pouches to break the seal. The seaweed pouches can be eaten or discarded. Seaweed pouches are biodegradable and can break down in 4-6 weeks. In comparison, a plastic water bottle takes about four hundred and fifty years to decompose.

To create a plastic pouch, Skipping Rocks Labs harvests brown seaweed and removes its color, odor, and taste to create a thin yet durable membrane. The membrane is made of notpla, a combination of seaweed and plants. The brown seaweed the lab uses grows about one meter per day, and doesn’t need fresh water or fertilizer, making the harvesting process sustainable as well.

Currently, 38 billion water bottles and 100 billion plastic bags end up in American landfills every year. Single-use plastics are integral to American society, and biodegradable seaweed pouches provide a viable sustainable alternative option to plastics. Plastic pouches can stand in for the mass amount of single use plastics used in sporting events, concerts, festivals, carnivals, conventions, restaurants, and more.

Large group events often generate significant waste, especially in the form of plastic. On average, one person discards about four pounds of waste per day indicating that a three-day one thousand person event will produce 12,500 pounds of waste. Choosing to reduce or completely eliminate paper, carefully planning the amount of supplies needed, using biodegradable cups and plates, and choosing efficient energy sources are all viable options.

To minimize energy and waste produced through transportation, Skipping Rocks Labs has developed compact manufacturing technology can locally produce Oohs. In the future, Skipping Rocks Lab’s plans to develop and implement an alternative to the plastic that lines cardboard, which is often made from oil or corn. The lab is also developing biodegradable and inexpensive nets to carry goods, as an alternative to plastic grocery bags. Heat sealable films are also in the works to replace plastic wrappers and packets of dry foods with water soluble films. For non food items, sachets that are easily biodegradable are in the developmental stage.

To make Ooho a more viable option for businesses and governments, Skipping Rocks Labs must be able to mass produce them as well as reduce the price of production to keep them in competition with plastics and prove biodegradable pouches to be both financially and environmentally viable.

Since the London Marathon organizers chose to use seaweed pouches in lieu of plastic water bottles, it launched Skipping Rocks Labs onto the worldwide stage. The publicity that the small company garnered as a result showed the power of the major corporations and organizations. When large businesses and corporations make sustainable choices, it sets the precedent for other companies to make more environmentally friendly choices as well.

Even though seaweed pouches are not yet mainstream and readily available, there are a significant number of single use plastic alternatives easily accessible. Using a water bottle, carrying reusable shopping bags, bringing reusable containers to coffee shops, using reusable straws, and cutting down on the use of polypropylene and polyethylene, microplastics that are extremely detrimental to the ocean. Choosing to use reusable products instead of disposable ones is a small fix, but can considerably decrease individual plastic waste.