Seaweed as an alternative to plastic?

By Saanvi Sansanwal

Food wrappers made out of conventional plastic are the cause of 50 % of the garbage floating in our oceans but we all know how difficult they are to recycle. In regards to this issue, a company, called Zerocircle, has invented a new way to replace plastic with seaweed and this company now stands as a finalist for Tom Ford’s Plastic Innovation Prize worth more than $1 million.

The goo-like material can be made into an edible, plastic-like film that can cover all kinds of food and you can eat it. The process that makes this possible takes place in a high-tech lab but the raw materials come from seaweed farms. Farming seaweed requires no fertilisers, freshwater or land and there are four main benefits of this process: ocean conservation by restoring marine life, preventing deforestation by reducing the impact of global warming, an option for future food as seaweed is a rich source of proteins and vitamins and fosters communities by sourcing seaweed from local villages. 

This is a company based in India, a country that has a lot of space to grow seaweed seedlings. These seedlings get attached to ropes on a raft and once they are ready to be harvested, workers cut the seaweed but leave some segments to regrow and then the seaweed dries in the sSun for about 36 hours. The dry seaweed lays in the sun for a few more days before heading to zerocircle labs. However, this process has to be done in relatively small batches as extensive seaweed farming can have unintended consequences such as blocking light and changing the way the water flows to the ecosystem below. 

The seaweed goes through many cleaning processes and then goes into a reactor to be heated to make this gel-like, viscous plastic material. When moulded and put into a plate, it is removed and slightly stretched to form a familiar film called plastic. Zerocircles film can be sealed with heat just like plastic, but unlike conventional plastic, it dissolves in boiling water within 2 hours and takes up to 4 months in a compost pile. 

Once made into bags, they have a very good capacity and can hold up to 8 kg of weight in a single shopping bag. While this plastic alternative offers great environmental benefits, the main problem is that traditional plastic film, made from oil, is still cheaper so it would still take some more time to get this product out into the market as a beneficial alternative to plastic.

Posted in Eco.