Notpla Is on a Mission to Save the World From Plastic Packaging

From edible sachets to compostable takeout boxes, this company is on a roll.

Notpla sachets
A sachet whose shelf-life matches the shelf-life of its content.

Notpla

As an environmental writer, I get a lot of pitches for sustainable products and technology – more than I can possibly read or respond to. Some of the ideas make me scratch my head or roll my eyes. Others spark my interest and cause me to click, read, and respond right away. And once in a while, I discover something that blows my mind and fills my heart with hope for the future of humanity.

One discovery that had that wonderful mind-blowing effect on me is Notpla, the UK-based company that made headlines several years ago for Ooho, its small edible water pouches that have successfully eliminated single-use water bottles at numerous marathons and other sporting events. I wrote about Ooho back in 2018 and a colleague covered it for our former sister site MNN in 2017, but I didn't think much more about it until I stumbled across Notpla again recently.

Ooho pouch

Notpla

It turns out that Notpla (formerly known as Skipping Rocks Lab) has been exceedingly busy over the past two years, churning out even more brilliant innovations that could have a profound effect on mitigating global plastic pollution.

There's still Ooho, of course, the clear pouch that holds any kind of liquid you want. Water, energy drinks, even shots of alcohol (for zero-waste parties!) – you name it and it can be enclosed in a soft little globe that's made from one of nature's most renewable resources, brown seaweed. Notpla writes on its website that brown seaweed "grows up to 3.3 feet (1 meter) per day, does not compete with food crops, doesn't need fresh water or fertilizer, and actively contributes to de-acidifying our oceans." This also makes it edible and fully biodegradable within 4-6 weeks, so you have the option of swallowing it or tossing it on the ground. (Please don't do this where it's visible. Best to put it in a home composter.)

Ooho's technology can be applied to sachets, which are the most common trash item found in Asia. They are used to sell small quantities of condiments, shampoo, soap, salad dressings, and other liquids, but because they're made from a mix of layered plastic and aluminum, they are impossible to recycle. They have no value and so there is no incentive for cleanup. Being so tiny, they get everywhere and clog drains, are easily ingested by wildlife, and are generally unsightly. If sachets could be replaced with Ooho's biodegradable recipe, it has potential to be revolutionary; the litter would disappear within a month and harm no one and nothing in the process. They're already being used by the Just Eat food delivery platform.

Notpla has come up with a biodegradable liner for takeout containers. Liners are necessary to prevent leakage of grease and other food substances out of paper containers, but usually they are made from plastic. This makes the containers non-biodegradable and non-recyclable, while raising concerns about the potential transfer of toxic chemicals in plastic to the human body via food. With Notpla, those concerns are eliminated. From the website:

"Most paper-based products contain synthetic chemicals that act as a water and oil repellent. We have specially sourced the paperboard for our box to be free of these materials. The paperboard also includes grass into the pulp, resulting in a saving of over 250kg of CO2 and more than 3000L of water per tonne when compared to conventional fresh fibre cartonboard."

A short video clip shows a time-lapse of the takeout box biodegrading in soil compared to other common takeout materials, such as PLA- and PE-coated, polypropylene, and expanded polystyrene. All traces of the Notpla box are gone within two weeks, while the rest remain nearly intact. It biodegrades anywhere, even in a backyard composter, and does not require industrial conditions.

Notpla box

Notpla

A new naturally biodegradable, heat-sealable film is under development right now. It will be used to wrap dry foods and powders and be a replacement for plastic film wrap. Notpla says it will offer both water-soluble and insoluble films, depending on what companies want.

Also on the horizon are biodegradable nets for fresh produce, as well as sachets for non-food products, such as screws, nails, and other hardware. Just like the edible sachets, "these will biodegrade as soon as they’re in contact with soil, moisture or bacteria and disappear within weeks."

Furthermore, Notpla plans to lease an on-site sachet-making machine to businesses that want to make their own: "Our primary business model is to lease this machine and sell cartridges of materials to co-packers and event organizers, enabling them to produce and sell fresh Oohos containing drinks or sauces as desired." This should be ready in 2021.

Talk about a flurry of activity! It's amazing to see what this company is up to, and I can't wait to start recognizing their clever products in more restaurants and retail outlets around the world. Already, many are available for corporate orders from their website, so check it out if you think this is something your company can use.