Algae’s Remarkable Role in Sustainable Packaging’s Future

Cutting-edge algae-based bioplastics could revolutionize sustainable packaging (and beyond) while meeting consumer and regulatory demands.

Jack Shaw, Senior Writer and Editor

June 21, 2024

4 Min Read
Green Algae Cells - 3D Illustration
EzumeImages / iStock / Getty Images

At a Glance

  • Innate biodegradability and renewability make algae an ideal solution to traditional plastics’ environmental issues.
  • Applications include water bottle replacement, food wrappers, drinking straws, and condiment sachets.
  • The global bioplastics market is projected to rose from $8.14 billion in 2021 to $18.05 billion by 2027.

Algae, once primarily associated with marine ecosystems, is emerging as a game-changer for sustainable packaging solutions. With the escalating global concern over plastic pollution and the urgent need for eco-friendly alternatives, algae-based packaging has stepped into the limelight — and is not leaving anytime soon.

Below, we’ll explore how this remarkable resource is transforming packaging, why startups are investing heavily in it, and the immense potential algae holds for the future.

The science behind algae-based packaging

Algae refers to a diverse group of aquatic organisms possessing remarkable properties that make them an ideal candidate for sustainable packaging. They can be cultivated rapidly, requiring minimal nutrient input and obtaining energy from sunlight. Algae can thrive in saltwater and even wastewater, reducing the strain on freshwater resources. This adaptability makes them a cleaner alternative to traditional raw materials.

At the heart of algae-based packaging lies its innate biodegradability and renewability. This edge makes it ideal for food packaging and a viable solution to the environmental woes caused by traditional plastics. Algae also absorb atmospheric carbon during growth, further reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Remarkably, they contribute to approximately 70% of the oxygen in the Earth’s atmosphere.

Related:PLA a Prescription for Sustainable Healthcare Packaging

As a packaging material, algae-based polymers offer comparable functionality to traditional plastics while presenting a sustainable end-of-life solution through compostability and biodegradability.

The rise of algae-based packaging

The global algae market is rapidly growing as new uses for algae are continually discovered, generating about $1 billion in sales each year. Here are various innovative applications for algae and seaweed as alternatives to plastic, showcasing their potential to revolutionize packaging and other industries:

  • Notpla's Ooho water pods: Notpla's Ooho is one of the most prominent examples of algae-based packaging. It’s a seaweed-based edible and biodegradable water pod. It’s a sustainable solution used in conjunction with reusable bottles and has gained significant attention at major events. Over 30,000 Ooho pods were distributed to runners during the 2019 London Marathon, replacing thousands of plastic bottles and substantially reducing plastic waste.

  • Evoware's biodegradable food wrappers: Indonesian startup Evoware has developed biodegradable food wrappers made from seaweed. These wrappers are used for packaging various products, from coffee to cookies to soap. The materials are edible, biodegradable, and home-compostable, ensuring they can safely return to nature without harming wildlife.

  • Loliware's seaweed-based straws: U.S.-based Loliware has created seaweed-based straws designed to replace single-use plastic straws. Unlike paper alternatives, they maintain their structural integrity for up to 24 hours after getting wet. While edible, Loliware straws will naturally degrade in the environment within two months.

  • MarinaTex's fish waste and algae packaging: London-based startup MarinaTex has developed a bioplastic film made from fish waste and red algae. This innovative material is designed for use in packaging and has been awarded the James Dyson Award for its potential to reduce plastic pollution. This bioplastic is stronger than LDPE (low-density polyethylene) and decomposes in four to six weeks under home composting conditions.

  • Skipping Rocks Lab's condiment sachets: Skipping Rocks Lab — the creators of Ooho — has also developed an eco-friendly alternative to single-use plastic packets for condiments and sauces to reduce plastic waste in the food industry. These seaweed sachets biodegrade within six weeks.

The potential for long-term impact

The potential for algae-based packaging to make a significant long-term impact is immense, driven by continuous advancements in research and technology. Ongoing improvements in extraction and processing enhance algae-derived biopolymers' properties, making them more viable for various applications.

The role of algae in sustainable packaging is poised to expand exponentially as the urgency to combat plastic pollution intensifies. Packaging leaders can harness algae's inherent properties to spearhead the transition toward a more sustainable and eco-friendly future.

The global bioplastics market, valued at $8.14 billion in 2021, is projected to reach $18.05 billion by 2027, with a CAGR of around 14% from 2022 to 2027. Despite a slight decline in global plastic production, bioplastic demand is rising steadily, driven by technological advancements, increased research and development, and expanding applications.

The rapid growth of the bioplastics market underscores the economic and environmental benefits of sustainable packaging solutions like algae-based materials. Algae require minimal resources to grow and significantly contribute to carbon sequestration. These advantages position algae-based packaging as a scalable, eco-friendly alternative to traditional plastics, addressing environmental concerns and market demands.

Embracing a sustainable future

By embracing algae-based packaging, companies can capitalize on bioplastic technology advancements while meeting consumer and regulatory sustainability demands. Integrating algae-based solutions promises a future where packaging is functional and environmentally responsible.

Incorporating algae-based packaging into your company’s sustainability strategy reduces environmental footprint and positions your brand as a leader in responsible practices. Explore this cutting-edge technology to enhance your product offerings and contribute to a greener future. Your proactive steps today can set the standard for sustainable packaging in the future.

About the Author(s)

Jack Shaw

Senior Writer and Editor, Modded

Jack Shaw is a Senior Writer and Editor at Modded. He’s from New York, NY, and has more than six years of experience writing for the men’s lifestyle niche. When not writing, Shaw can be found playing with his pets, cooking, training, or out exploring.

Shaw has covered everything from cars to sports to men’s health. You might even call him a Jack-of-all-trades. His writings have been featured in OffRoad XtremeSportsEd TVBarBend, and more.

Reach him at [email protected], on LinkedIn, or via his digital portfolio at JackHenryShaw.com.

Sign up for the Packaging Digest News & Insights newsletter.

You May Also Like