Notpla's seaweed-based solution sets a new standard for eco-friendly packaging

6 Dec 2023

Notpla’s seaweed-based packaging has become the first material to be recognised by the Dutch government as plastic-free under the European Single Use Plastics Directive, reducing reliance on traditional plastics, and promoting sustainability amid upcoming bans and taxes on disposable plastic food packaging across Europe.

This achievement follows a nine-month verification process overseen by the Dutch government, which scrutinised thousands of products. The Dutch environmental authority, ILT, took a comprehensive approach, which involved the inclusion of technologies claiming to be "plastic-free," such as aqueous dispersion coating, in its classification of plastics.

Notpla's seaweed-based solution sets a new standard for eco-friendly packaging
© iStock/Wirestock

Notpla, a London-based startup that makes plastic alternative packaging from seaweed, was confirmed as fully compliant with the European Single Use Plastics Directive (SUPD), which was introduced in 2021. Notpla’s natural polymer without chemical modifications aligns with the Netherlands' strict stance on enforcing the directive, which includes a recently introduced tax on disposable cups and containers that contain plastic.

Ingredients Network spoke with Paul Foulkes-Arellano, founder of Circuthon Consulting, which focuses on circular innovation and sustainability. When asked about the importance of Notpla's achievement, Foulkes-Arellano said: "It’s particularly significant as it’s not something you can buy and pay a subscription for. Most of these certifications come from profit-making companies who are interested in selling as many subscriptions as possible."

Notpla's sustainable approach

Notpla's packaging uses seaweed, which is abundantly available, growing quickly without the need for freshwater, land or fertiliser. Unlike conventional containers and bioplastic alternatives that often incorporate fossil-based coatings, Notpla's packaging requires no chemical modifications or petrol-based coatings. Made from kraft cardboard and 100% natural seaweed coating, it can be recycled with existing paper streams or composted at home, leaving no trace behind- similar to the natural decomposition of fruit waste.

The potential environmental impact of Notpla is substantial, with the Netherlands discarding 19 million plastic cups and food packaging pieces daily, according to the former state secretary for environment, Vivianne Heijnen. In a press release, Notpla said that its packaging has the potential to prevent a minimum of 15 million single-use plastic packaging units from being produced in the Netherlands alone.

Credit: © iStock/miodrag ignjatovic© iStock/miodrag ignjatovic

This is particularly significant given the surge in single-use plastic food containers during the Covid-19 pandemic, which saw restaurants shifting to take-away and food deliveries. This resulted in a remarkable global increase of over 75% in gross merchandise volume for most major food delivery services in 2020. Adding to this impact, Statistica's data reveals that the number of users of online meal delivery services reached 1.9 billion in 2023, marking an increase of over 200 million from the previous year. Projections suggest that by 2027, users are expected to reach around 2.4 billion, highlighting the sustained growth in online meal delivery services.

The future of sustainable packaging

Notpla’s seaweed-based packaging offers SUPD compliance assurance, exempting it from upcoming bans and taxes on disposable plastic food packaging across Europe. Businesses in the Netherlands adopting Notpla's packaging may find relief from the plastic tax introduced by the Dutch government. Additionally, with the Single-Use Plastic Ban in England now in effect, Notpla's success may be a milestone in the future of sustainable packaging.

When asked about the impact on the broader narrative around sustainability and combating single-use plastics, Foulkes-Arellano stated: "National recognition is a 'gold standard.' If governments take a more active role in scientifically determining what is correct and what is mere greenwash, then we will make good progress towards a less polluted world. Northern Europe is the global apex of good practice. Every nation in the world looks to the EU and Northern Europe for the bases for their own legislation."

In response to this achievement, Notpla has entered a strategic partnership with Dutch manufacturer Conpax to distribute plastic-free food packaging throughout the BENELUX regions (Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg).

Notably, food delivery companies are also embracing Notpla. Thuisbezorgd, a Dutch food delivery service, recently partnered with Notpla, advertising exclusive kraft boxes with seaweed lining for restaurants. This aligns with the growing trend of consumers seeking environmentally conscious choices in their food packaging: 48% of customers avoid providers who are not actively trying to reduce their use of non-recyclable plastic packaging, according to the European Packaging Preferences 2020 report, produced by Two Sides.

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