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Sustainability

Imperial College graduates win £1 million Earthshot Prize for biodegradable seaweed packaging

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3 min read
AUTHOR: Fiona Holland
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© Imperial College London

Imperial College London graduates Pierre Paslier and Rodrigo Garcia are the first UK group to win the Earthshot Prize for their seaweed-based biodegradable plastic alternative Notpla.

The pair won the ‘Build a Waste-Free World’ category, which sought to recognise projects that eliminate food waste, single-use packaging, and inspire organisations and industries to reuse, repurpose and recycle.

Launched in 2020 by Prince William of Wales and Sir David Attenborough, the Earthshot Prize awards a grant of £1 million to individuals and companies that work to address one of five categories: Protect and Restore Nature, Clean our Air, Revive our Oceans, Build a Waste-Free World and Fix our Climate.

Made from brown seaweed, the Notpla material biodegrades naturally in 4-6 weeks without releasing any microplastics. It is also home compostable and doesn’t contaminate PET recycling (PolyEthylene Terephthalate – one of the most used plastic packaging materials.)

The company has incorporated the material into various products:

  • Notpla Coating takeaway food containers, which are grease and water-resistant.
  • Notpla Ooho, an edible bubble designed to replace single-use packaging for liquids.
  • Notpla Paper, which is fully printable and can be integrated into many secondary packaging applications.
  • Notpla Film, designed to replace conventional plastic-based, flexible packaging.
  • Notpla Pipette, made for easy-to-use sustainable packaging of single-dose edible oils.
  • Notpla Rigid, which has many similar properties to conventional rigid plastics.
  • Notpla Pearls, single-dose seaweed spheres designed for use in the cosmetics industry for products like toothpaste.

Set up in 2014, the Notpla team met while studying Innovation Design Engineering, a course offered by both Imperial and the Royal College of Art. Paslier and Garcia received support from the Imperial Enterprise Lab, the Centre for Climate Change Innovation and the Imperial White City Incubator to launch the start-up.

Commenting on the win, Imperial College London’s President, Professor Hugh Brady, said: “Imperial students are known for their creativity, tenacity and entrepreneurial spirit. That’s why we have a vibrant entrepreneurial ecosystem to support their ideas at every stage.

“Pierre and Rodrigo embody the best of Imperial, and their business has the potential to accelerate the world to a sustainable, zero pollution future. The Earthshot prize is richly deserved.” 

Notpla’s products have already drawn much attention over the past few years, with its edible Lucozade-filled Ooho capsules handed out to runners at the London marathon in 2019.

Earlier this year, the start-up also announced they had successfully made over a million food boxes for the takeaway giant Just Eat using the Notpla Coating.

Many companies have developed clever sustainable packaging solutions – using materials such as leaves and plant by-products, and fruits and vegetables to help the food industry move away from single-use plastic.

Browse the Food Matters Live calendar to find out more about upcoming events

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