Seaweeds have traditionally been utilised for the extraction of hydrocolloids such as alginates from brown seaweed and carrageenan from red seaweed. These hydrocolloids are used as thickeners, gelling agents, emulsifiers and stabilisers in the food industry and also for a number of additional applications.
Seaweeds have also been utilised for bodycare and cosmetic applications as they are generally a rich source of vitamins, trace elements and iodine. Such applications include seaweed baths, shampoos, soaps and various topical creams.
It is also used as a fertiliser (as a dried product or liquid extract), in medicine, as an ingredient in human food, textiles and is currently being researched for biofuel production and utilised as a feed ingredient for cattle, sheep and other animals.
So Whats New ?
Biotech expert Noryawati Mulyno of Indonesian company Evoware invented seaweed packaging for food products which is either edible or 100% biodegradable, decomposing in just four to six weeks.
The company, one of six recently recognized at the culmination of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s Circular Design Challenge for “new plastics,” is testing a variety of packaging applications for bio-plastics made from seaweed farmed in Indonesia waters.
Seaweed is abundant as well. It’s estimated that, if used as packaging, just 0.03 per cent of the world’s brown seaweed, could replace all of the (PET) plastic bottles we get through each year.
We are not going to get rid of plastics over night, but the remainder of this post will hopefully show why the need to stop using it, as it is of such a large global importance and additionally why seaweed could well become at least one saviour in the realm of food packaging.
Plastics and good reasons to hate them with a passion
Currently most of all plastics produced come from oil and of these plastics many will not break down for around 450 years, even then when they do they break down it is into other chemical compounds which are extremely bad for the environment.
The UK alone produces more than 170m tonnes of waste every year, much of it food packaging. While it has revolutionised the way we store and consume food, there is now so much of it that landfills can’t cope. Some of it is poisonous, and some of it never degrades.
Since the creation of plastic in 1907 an estimated 8.3 billion metric tons of plastic has beed created and 75% of All Plastic Ever Made Has Been Thrown Away and only 9% of this waste has been recycled with 12% incinerated.
To get a sense of the size of that, 8.3 billion metric tons is equivalent to:
- 822,000 Eiffel Towers
- 25,000 Empire State Buildings
- 80 million blue whales
- 1 billion elephants
The turning tide
Aside from seaweed there is other good news however as people are now starting to turning against plastic. All around the world, countries are beginning to ban plastic, recognizing that the convenience it affords is rarely worth the environmental harm it causes.
In Kenya, for example, the government recently banned all plastic bags. France, meanwhile, banned all plastic cups, plates and cutlery. Zimbabwe just banned all styrofoam-like containers.
In Britain WRAP lead the UK’s Plastic pact which is a collection of companies that endeavor to make 70% of plastic packaging effectively recycled or composted by 2025.
The picture above looks incredibly disturbing however it doesn’t even come close to showing how bad the situation really is. Even the scale reference above doesn’t help in this context however the below image paints a picture which is hard to believe but is also unfortunately true.
You may wonder how this effects you and that’s a very lengthy topic in itself, however in a nutshell:
smaller sea life in general gets killed by it (even as deep as 11km)
larger sea life live off the smaller sea life
we also eat fish etc from these same oceans
1 million birds a year are killed by it
and on and on and on……… I think you get the idea