The Latest Way to Be Sustainable: Eating Your Water
The average American throws away 185 pounds of plastic every year which takes between 500 and 1,000 years to degrade. Back in February I wrote a post on orange energy bags, a new advancement in reducing the amount of plastic waste sent to landfills (read about it here). The next wave of environmental sustainability is to cut out the plastic altogether and consume the container with the product. A new London startup, Skipping Rocks Lab, has developed an edible and biodegradable alternative to plastic called Ooho! Their homepage tagline is “We make packaging disappear.”
The product is made from Notpla, or seaweed and plants that disappear naturally. The package biodegrades in four to six weeks so if you are not able to get over the texture or idea of eating the container, it will take care of itself. Otherwise, it has been described as akin to eating a cherry tomato. The pods themselves are tasteless as well.
Curious how sustainable using seaweed was, I started to Google. In my mind, I pictured combing the ocean for seaweed, eventually depleting the supply with this new technology. I came across the field of seaweed farming, or the practice of cultivating and harvesting seaweed. It ranges from managing naturally found batches to fully controlling the life cycle of the algae. While a major industry in Asian countries, it is actually gaining traction here in the U.S. Monterey Bay Seaweeds is just one example of a small scale farm growing seaweed in big tubs and tanks. This operation produces about 50 to 100 lbs per week. Most operations however, are open-sea systems. So there would be alternatives to depleting the natural supply of ocean grown seaweed if necessary, but given how rapidly it grows, it may not be necessary.
What put these little pods on my radar was a podcast from Marathon Training Academy about the London Marathon. They mentioned that at the marathon this weekend, these pods were going to be handed out at aid stations. The race has set an ambitious goal of being zero-waste by 2020, a great feat for an event that requires providing thousands of runners with water and sports drinks at dozens of stations. One way they are getting closer to this goal is through the pods. They filled 30,000 pods with Lucozade Sport drink and handed them to runners at mile 23. This to me sounded incredible as it not only reduces the amount of waste of thousands of single use cups, but as a runner would cut down on the amount of liquid spilled as you run. I personally would love to grab one of these instead of a messy cup.
Beyond races, the pods are also offering a plastic free solution to sauce and condiments. In this case, it would be more likely to see the biodegradable aspect used rather than the edible, unless you are like the kid from the movie Big Daddy who likes to eat ketchup for his meals. The product has also been used as a replacement to the coated plastic made from oil or corn that line many takeout boxes. The Notpla liner is “natural, biodegradable and even repulpable.”
This one product developed to make our waste-centric society more sustainable has the ability to touch multiple aspects of my own life from my running to how I eat out. It is not always easy to cut out waste but as a society we have come a long way with recycling our waste. Products like this could revolutionize how we think of packaging and lead to even less waste in the end. I look forward to seeing these pods pop up in every fast food restaurant, at every race, and the Notpla liner used in all take out boxes. Just imagine what an impact could be made if McDonald’s started using them. It would save me from picking up a bunch of little ketchup packets littered on the streets.