Ooho and the power of Notpla seaweed innovation

Biomimicry Innovation Lab
Predict
Published in
5 min readFeb 21, 2022

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“Plastic pollution has become one of the most pressing environmental issues, as rapidly increasing production of disposable plastic products overwhelms the world’s ability to deal with them. Plastic pollution is most visible in developing Asian and African nations, where garbage collection systems are often inefficient or nonexistent,” according to research carried out by National Geographic (Parker, L. 2019).

Single use plastic bottles, cups, forks, spoons. concept of recycling plastic, plastic waste by Duskbabe

This aligns with the WWF report, Plastic Pollution in Africa. Most of Africa’s rural towns and burgeoning cities, rivers and coastlines are increasingly polluted with discarded plastic packaging and other plastic waste (Sadan, Z. and De Kock, L. 2021).

Countries such as France, Australia and many other countries are banning single-use plastic or single-use plastic bags. The challenge is that removing packaging from the protection of perishable food items can increase the amount of waste from field to fork. Stephen Aldridge and Laurel Miller write about these trade-offs in Why Shrink Wrap a Cucumber? The Complete Guide to Environmental Packaging (2012).

Notpla

Ooho food packaging solutions. Image credit: David Lineton

The challenges faced in terms of the issues with single-use plastic packaging and PLA bioplastic are something that two researchers studying Innovation Design Engineering at Imperial College London and the Royal College of Art tackled. Rodrigo Garcia Gonzalez and Pierre Paslier co-founded Skipping Rocks Lab to investigate using algae-based materials to create edible packaging that can be eaten or composited in home composters (unlike PLA-based materials that require industrial composters to break down the material).

This led to the creation of Ooho, a sustainable packaging solution for liquids that combines seaweed and plants. “Ooho” is the sound people make when they see the product for the first time! After their first Ooho video went viral in 2013, they joined Climate KIC, Europe’s largest funded accelerator focused on climate innovation. The team began working with Imperial College chemists and chemical engineers to test Ooho at running events, festivals, and takeaway shops. They soon began working on a scalable manufacturing technique and established a manufacturing hub in London.

The team renamed the company Notpla, which is also the name of their sustainable packaging solutions. Most importantly, Ooho is a biodegradable and edible packaging! It will degrade in 4–6 weeks, just like a piece of fruit.

Notpla has also partnered with Heinz Ketchup to use Ooho for suave distributions and is used for sports drinks at various festivals and sports events worldwide. Seeing 30,000 of the products being used at the 2019 London Marathon for Lucozade Sport surely must be a highlight for the team at Notpla. Check out their drinks machine in the Design Museum as part of the exhibit Waste Age: What can Design do?

We have interviewed the co-founder of Notpla, Rodrigo Garcia Gonzalez, on Biomimicry Innovation Lab’s first-ever Food Innovation podcast.

Food Innovation podcast is also available across multiple other platforms.

Alongside Ooho, Notpla has developed a range of complementary products to tackle elements of the packaging industry.

With the majority of cardboard food packaging coated in plastics (or bioplastics) to make the package greaseproof, this does mean that it cannot be recycled or composted. The Notpla coating made from seaweed protects the cardboard from grease, and water, meaning that it can be recycled, home-composted, or even allow the packaging to biodegrade naturally. You will know of these challenges for plastic and bioplastic solutions like we do when we have fish and chips at the coast. There is a reason Australia has banned certain PLA materials as it is confusing both recycling and composting waste streams. This Notpla solution is available as food packaging, coated board for paper converters, and coating powder for coasters and paper mills.

Notpla takeaway box. Image credit: Notpla

Like Ooho, the Notpla pipettes are made from seaweed and designed with oils as a replacement for single-use plastics. They are 100% natural, home-compostable, vegan membrane pipettes. They’re even edible… if you’re starving, according to their website!

Notpla Films are made entirely from seaweed, plant, and mineral extracts with no plastic or bioplastic. These films have been created with the entire lifecycle in mind, breaking down naturally and leaving nothing behind. They can be used for dry goods or liquids with a low water content across a range of fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG). Unlike oxo-degradable materials found on many dishwashers and washing machine tablets, the films can be functionalised by dissolving in water (with their contents) or even adding a scent.

Notpla edible and flavoured sachets. Image credit: Notpla

Finally, Notpla has a range of hot and cold-water-soluble films. These can be used for a range of solutions depending on the market requirements. The applications are endless: coffee sachets, clothing bags, magazine wrapping, sauces, and stocks.

Notpla is continuing to innovate, as seen via their offerings above. Via their partnerships with brands such Lucozade and Heinz, their awareness-raising across social media, and via exhibitions such as that at the Design Museum, they will surely push the market to take a closer look at sustainable packaging. Those whose claims are more green-washing or in terms of PLA-based products, ignore the issues around compositing and disposability will, hopefully, be left behind.

In terms of cost, Notpla is similar to other environmental products on the market and would be a sensible choice for retailers, caterers and event managers to use if they are actually serious about their circularity and sustainability credentials. We hope that Notpla can shift consumer choices and be the market leader in developing new packaging solutions, which is sorely needed at this time.

One to watch!

Find out more about Notpla on their website — notpla.com, and on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

Access to the interview with Rodrigo Garcia Gonzalez can be found on all widely available music and streaming platforms (Spotify, YouTube, Apple Music).

by Richard James MacCowan

Biomimicry Innovation Lab is a foresight and design futures agency focusing on desirable outcomes in the manufacturing, food/agriculture and urban innovation sectors. We build collaborations to solve complex challenges and develop solutions around the world.

You can read about collaboration with the angel and venture capitalist family office, Nadathur Group, in our report, The State of Nature-inspired Innovation in the UK.

Want to know more? Schedule an introductory call — https://bit.ly/bioinnlab, or email us at work@biomimicryinnovationlab.com.

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Biomimicry Innovation Lab
Predict
Writer for

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