The Solution for Plastic – Alge and Seaweed Bioplastic
Although algae blooms are rapidly increasing in bodies of water worldwide, scientists may have found the solution to removing them and using them to create an alternative to plastic.
Warming water temperatures as a response to climate change are causing harmful algal blooms to occur more often in bodies of water. This process, called eutrophication, is a form of marine suffocation and is a significant environmental concern to bodies of water such as the Caribbean and the Baltic Sea. As these blooms spread across the water, it negatively impacts marine life and human health, causing oxygen deficiency, reducing water quality and blocking light.
Mari Granström, a Finnish biochemist and avid scuba diver, became aware of these toxic blooms in the Baltic Sea on her dives. She saw first-hand how the algae affected marine ecosystems and decided to take the matter into her own hands. She figured out a way to tackle the problem of algae blooms in the water and put them to good use on land.
What started as a hobby eventually grew into a company. In 2019, Granström started the Origin by Ocean company, where she is the chief executive. The company is undergoing a pilot production scheme with the aim of becoming fully operational by 2025-2026. Origin by Ocean collects the algae blooms off the coast of Finland, where it is sucked onto the boats and separated from the water. The processing is done in Finland, where they use a patented biorefinery technology called “Nauvu” to separate the algae into numerous useable materials. The materials are then sold to food, cosmetics, textiles, packing and agricultural companies.
Notpla (short for not plastic) is a company moving past single-use plastic by transforming seaweed into a compostable and biodegradable material. The company uses a seaweed-based film that replaces plastic and breaks down in a few weeks. Notpla plays a significant role in the restaurant/take-out industry as they have created to-go containers that keep grease from the food from seeping out. The plant-based coating made from seaweed protects not only the food but the environment as well by naturally biodegrading.
Along with 100% biodegradable condiment packages and seaweed-based paper, the company has also developed a bio-based film made of seaweed, plant and mineral extracts designed to replace commercial kitchen wrap. The wrap protects the food and can be dissolved in water – think noodles packages dropped in boiling water.
Not only can seaweed be transformed into a range of sustainable products, but it is also the planet’s most abundant biomass source and can grow at a rate of a metre per day. The production does not compete with food crops; it doesn’t require fertilizers or freshwater and actively sequesters carbon dioxide.
While invasive species of seaweed, such as algae blooms, may cause harm to marine ecosystems across the globe, it isn’t all bad news. Companies like Origin by Ocean and Notpla are only a few names working to find innovative ways to turn an algae problem into a sustainable solution.