Wednesday, 22 January 2020

Seaweed (algae) Plastic

Over Christmas, my daughter and I had a go at making some seaweed (more accurate to call it algae) plastic as part of her GCSE Graphics project work. She had been inspired by a news story referencing the 2019 London Marathon, where runners had been given edible seaweed pouches filled with Lucozade instead of plastic bottles. The intention was to replace 200,000 bottles with the Ooho pouches, produced by Skipping Rocks Lab, a UK based, sustainable packaging start-up company.

The Oohopouch

Whilst acknowledging the limitations of the idea as a solution to reducing single-use plastics, my daughter was particularly interested in the fact that the pouches are marketed as being edible, compostable and will naturally biodegrade in four to six weeks.

She found a recipe online and we bought in the ingredients we needed: essentially agar and glycerol. We mixed the correct quantities with water, stirred the solution and heated it to boiling point, constantly stirring to prevent the formation of lumps. The liquid was simmered for about 15 minutes with any ‘froth’ that developed being scooped out. Then, after cooling, we poured the mixture into an ice cube mould and an upturned lid. It dried very quickly but we still left it for several hours before we dared to remove the plastic from the moulds.

'Our Attempt'
By Lauren Pell

The image shows (from the top): the plastic material cast into an ice-cube mould, cast into the lid mould and the ‘froth’ that had been removed from the solution during heating, all melted together. The material felt slightly wet (although it wasn’t), robust (being surprisingly difficult to ‘squash’), was tasteless (definitely edible) and we were confident that it would work well as a container. We thought we would like to repeat the experiment using a bowl-shaped mould so that we could test the material’s ability to hold and store liquid without leakage.

After 3 weeks, the samples had begun to dry out a little and mould spots had started to appear so, without the addition of preservatives, it is clear this recipe produces only a short-term material. However, for the storage of food/drink with a limited lifespan this bioplastic would certainly seem to have potential.

Already, an Indonesian start-up company called Evoware have started to produce single-serving sachets made out of seaweed plastic and, using similar technology, Loliware are selling seaweed straws, available to purchase later this year. Skipping Rocks Lab have developed the Ooho pouch into their own version of a single-serving sachet that food delivery company Just Eat is currently trialling.

We ended up throwing our efforts into the compost bin and intend to have a go at producing casein next.

Katherine Pell, Museum Collections Officer.

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