Notpla: Earthshot Prize Winner’s Seaweed Packaging Named ‘First and Only’ Plastic-Free Material Under EU Regulation
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Earthshot Prize-winning British startup Notpla’s seaweed-based packaging has become the ‘first and only’ material recognised as plastic-free by a European Union country, following a nine-month verification process under the EU’s Single-Use Plastics Directive (SUPD) by the Dutch government.
In July of this year, the Netherlands imposed a plastic tax on disposable plastic food containers, which mandates customers to pay 25 cents for food packaging for takeout and delivery purposes. The move was aimed at encouraging consumers to reduce their consumption.
It was part of the Netherlands’ strict drive against the single-use plastic industry, whose self-regulated and unsubstantiated claims were unsatisfactory. According to Notpla, the EU defines plastic as a material containing polymers that are chemically modified and/or synthetically polymerised, with the SUPD cracking down on these harmful materials with country-specific laws to prevent single-use plastics, require mandatory labelling, or implement taxes on the use of these materials – as the Dutch government has done in alignment with the Bloc’s regulation.
The Human Environment and Transport Inspectorate (ILT) – the Netherlands’ environmental body – tested thousands of material solutions and classified them as plastic, including those claiming to be plastic-free, like aqueous dispersion coating (which contains microplastics).
But Notpla, which makes biobased seaweed-based packaging, has now become the first material to be recognised as truly plastic-free, following a nine-month process by the ILT. The result was independently investigated by global sustainability firm Eunomia Research & Consulting.
Shaping up a more sustainable foodservice sector
The British startup uses natural extracts found in seaweed and doesn’t make any chemical modifications, which enables it to leverage the natural polymers to provide the grease and moisture resistance needed by food boxes to perform their function, and crucially, to bypass fossil-fuel-derived polymers.
The startup says that conventional containers and bioplastic alternatives can contain petrol-based coatings that “stick around forever” or release harmful toxins, its seaweed- and plant-coated solution can be recycled with existing paper streams or composted at home, “just like a fruit peel”.
Speaking about the milestone recognition from the Dutch government, Notpla co-founder Pierre-Yves Paslier said: “This sets Notpla apart and aligns perfectly with our mission to reduce society’s dependence on plastic. We look forward to helping Dutch restaurant owners meet their plastic reduction goals.”
Notpla, which was one of the winners of the Prince William-led Earthshot Prize in 2022, says its plastic-free food containers can prevent 15 million single-use plastic packaging units from being produced in the Netherlands (the company claims its solutions have diverted 3.5 million pieces of single-use plastic from entering the environment across all its markets). Companies using Notpla packaging would no longer need to charge consumers for the plastic tax, making it a win-win for both consumers and businesses alike.
The seaweed packaging will also help the catering industry reach its plastic reduction goals and ensure single-use items can still be used – for businesses that can’t implement reuse schemes due to hygiene or other factors, this is still a plastic-free solution.
A distribution partnership and other plastic-free applications
The startup, which has raised over £10M in funding, has entered a strategic partnership with Dutch manufacturer Conpax to produce and distribute plastic-free food packaging throughout Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg. Foodservice operators and other businesses will be able to buy Notpla’s food packaging starting in January, helping them achieve and promote their eco goals.
Conpax director Roy Suiskens said the collaboration will ensure the widespread availability of the seaweed-coated foldable cartons in the Benelux region. “From our own facilities in the Netherlands, we will design, manufacture and supply new sustainable single-use products made from Notpla-coated board and distribute this to the Benelux market who are calling out for this exact solution,” he explained.
Apart from its food packaging solution – which has been previously trialled by food delivery service Just Eat in the UK – Notpla has a host of plastic-free solutions for various applications. Its first flagship was Ooho, an edible packaging solution for on-the-go hydration during sporting events.
Its current product portfolio also includes a laundry sachet, ocean paper, and food oil pipettes, while it has developed prototypes or is working on energy gel pods, spice and bath oil sachets, lube and sunscreen pipettes, toothpaste and skincare pearls, as well as rigid cosmetics and product shells and cutlery.
Other companies working on plastic-free materials meant to replace plastic packaging include US-based Sway, London-based Flexsea and