10 Questions with Pierre Paslier from Notpla, a company that creates sustainable packaging solutions from seaweed and plants.
- Thank you so much for sharing your story with our readers. Can you tell our audience a bit about yourself?
I am a London-based Innovation Design Engineer, co-founder and co-CEO of Notpla. I hold a Master’s degree from the RCA’s Innovation Design Engineering programme (MA & MSci) and INSA de Lyon (MEng).
My career began as a Packaging Engineer for L’Oréal during the day, while I spent my evenings hacking 3D printers in my living room. Eventually, I made the decision to pursue design at the Royal College of Art. In 2013, I had the opportunity to co-design one of the first consumer delta 3D printers. My passion for innovation motivated me to co-found two startups, namely Gravity Sketch (focused on 3D creation in VR) and Notpla.
Driven by a strong sense of responsibility to address the plastic crisis, I am now fully dedicated to Notpla as co-CEO.
- How did the idea to create Notpla start?
Both Rodrigo and I developed an early interest in plastic waste and the ways we could find innovative and positive alternatives to plastic.
We started our journey as part of a student project for our Master of Innovation Design Engineering, a programme run jointly by the Royal College of Art and Imperial College.
Our course was all about coming up with new ways of solving problems. We were also encouraged to work on things we were passionate about. Plastic and packaging was already a firm feature in my work. Having studied engineering in France, I went on to work as a packaging engineer for L’Oreal in Paris. Here I learnt so much about the industrialisation of packaging production and the shocking pace at which one industry could generate plastic waste.
We started to explore how we could develop a packaging that could be similar to a fruit rather than just a container. And in 2013, the first Ooho prototypes were made in our kitchen. It is a flexible packaging for a wide range of liquids, 100% biodegradable and home-compostable. Ooho is a natural product designed to replace single-use packaging. Made from seaweed and plant extracts, it is 100% edible! We wanted to develop edible packaging because it is really different from the types of packaging we see in our daily lives. It is definitely not something that will create long-lasting waste – if we can eat it, nature can definitely eat it.
- What sort of sustainable packaging products does Notpla offer?
Notpla is the Earthshot Prize-winning company creating seaweed & plants based alternatives to single-use plastics packaging with partners like Just Eat Takeaway.com and Decathlon. All our packaging solutions are natural. Just like a fruit peel, they are home-compostable and biodegradable. Our tech is now fully industrialised, with millions of units sold across eight EU countries.
Our first iconic product is Notpla Ooho, a flexible packaging for liquids such as condiments/sauces, energy gels and drinks. We then developed Notpla Coating, a greaseproof & waterproof coating for paperboards used for takeaway food packaging, replacing the thin layer of plastic that is commonly used on traditional takeaway boxes. Notpla Film, used in our collaboration with Mack, is a flexible packaging for a wide range of uses: household cleaning, cosmetics, and food. Finally, we also developed some early-stage innovations representing our product portfolio’s future, such as Notpla Rigid Material, Notpla Paper or Notpla Pearls.
- What has the competition been like in the business of sustainable packaging solutions?
On the one hand, the competition in the packaging space – typically businesses making packing from synthetic biomaterials – can be seen as a positive. They’re trying to do something to improve the pure fossil fuel-derived plastic packaging that’s persisted for too long. But the problem comes with this very thin line between “trying to offer something better” and “okay, now that’s just greenwashing”… We try not to get too bogged down in what they’re doing and, instead, we’re creating a new category or totally regenerative materials which is just something that they cannot claim to be.
Among the true solutions, the nascent seaweed packaging industry is actually very friendly and collaborative, and we look forward to scaling our solution alongside these competitors. The world needs more alternatives to single-use plastics, and we will need different types of seaweed packaging if we want to tackle the plastic challenge.
- Have any big brands switched to used Notpla products in their packaging?
Just Eat Takeaway.com, the international food order and delivery brand, is one of the big companies supplying Notpla takeaway boxes on their platforms. We extended our presence in Europe to eight countries through this partnership, launching this year in Spain and Belgium. This packaging is an opportunity for restaurants working with Just Eat to boost their business: with 3 in 4 consumers now willing to pay more for sustainable packaging, it gives their next generation of customers another reason to come back for more!
- We heard that you recently teamed up with the eco-refill cleaning product company MACK. What will this partnership look like?
We are pleased to have joined forces with MACK to introduce a groundbreaking plant-based, water-soluble film for the Home and Laundry Care market, revolutionizing traditional packaging methods. The collaboration represents a significant step towards sustainable alternatives to PVA and PVOH, notorious for releasing harmful microplastics into the environment. Notpla Film, made from plant extracts, offers an innovative solution that degrades naturally, leaving no trace behind.
By incorporating Notpla’s advanced material into their refill cleaning products, MACK empowers consumers to positively impact the environment without compromising on cleanliness and quality. The partnership between MACK and Notpla signifies a major step forward in the pursuit of a more sustainable and eco-conscious future for the Home and Laundry Care market.
- Can you explain to our readers what a plant-based, water-soluble film is and why it is important in the laundry industry?
Notpla Film is designed to replace conventional fossil-derived and bio-plastic-based flexibles within the laundry industry. Unlike these, the unique characteristics of Notpla’s water-soluble film allow it to dissolve completely in water, breaking down naturally without releasing any microplastics.
With the ever-growing concern over plastic pollution and the potential of bioaccumulation of PVA/PVOH in the environment and human bodies, this alliance represents a united effort to address the critical environmental challenges posed by traditional packaging materials.
Notpla Film’s sustainability credentials are supported by its recognition as one of the Grand Prize winners of the Tom Ford Plastic Innovation Prize.
It underwent a rigorous nine-month biodegradable assessment process, including a simulated whale’s gut test at the Seattle Aquarium, going way beyond the industry standard biodegradability test. Let’s take composting standards as an example – these tests still allow 10% of the material to contain problematic substances such as microplastics! The test realized with the Plastic Innovation Prize is much stronger to help identify what a true environmental packaging solution is or not.
8. Will your products be available in the laundry aisle at our local stores?
Initially, MACK laundry detergent sachets made using Notpla’s water-soluble film will only be available online (expected launch in October). MACK are in the process of transitioning its entire product line away from PVOH and into Notpla’s water-soluble film. Whilst we can’t put an exact date on it, we definitely see a future in which you will be able to pick up environmentally friendly Notpla packaged cleaning products in your local supermarket.
9. What does the future hold for Notpla? Besides this new partnership, are there any interesting projects in the works that you’d like to share?
Notpla is now accelerating industrial production and expanding commercial partnerships for our Notpla takeaway boxes. These boxes, coated with seaweed, represent a tremendous opportunity for Notpla to replace the two billion plastic-lined takeaway boxes that are used every year in Europe with a seaweed-coated alternative. Our Notpla takeaway boxes are now supplied with national distributors and food service companies, including Bunzl, Bidfood and Just Eat.Takeaway.com. We are planning a next round of funding that will support the launch of our coating material into the United States market.
10. Do you have a final message you’d like to leave our readers with?
As a customers, whenever you buy a product, you are making a decision of the world you want to live in.
We can be powerful agents of change when armed with the right tools and information (you can find some on our social platform and our blog!). Always question the claims companies make in their adverts and on their packaging, as there is still a lot of greenwashing going on! If you spot any greenwashing, share it with your network and the company to let them know how they can improve. The more we all know, the better!