As consumer dissatisfaction with traditional plastic packaging grows stronger and as the global plastic waste crisis continues to worsen daily, a slew of new material science startups are looking to algae for solutions, and investors are pouring money into the nascent space. Over the past few months, three seaweed-based packaging companies from the US and Europe have announced multi-million dollar funding rounds. Sway, Oceanium, and Notpla are now all in positions to move forward with product development for bio-based alternatives to fossil-fuel extracted plastics.
The three companies are based in California, Scotland, and London respectively and they represent a global movement towards sustainable packaging solutions. A recent report suggested we have less than a decade to avert an irreversible plastic waste crisis. UK-based Notpla, famous for its edible algae water packs, scored the biggest investment, with a £10 million Series A funding round led by Asian billionaire Li Ka Shing’s venture fund.
Sway: Making a Name for Seaweed in California. Last month, female-led Californian startup Sway bagged $2.5 million in a seed round led by Valor Siren Ventures. Other key partners included Conservation International Ventures, Alante Capital, and BAM ventures. The funding will be used to continue development of two compostable products; polybags and retail bags. Both products are set to undergo pilot trials with partner brands in 2022. One of Sway’s key USPs is the use of multiple seaweeds to offer a variety of packaging colors.
“At Sway, we are building the next stage in the evolution of plastic,” said co-founder and CEO Julia Marsh in a statement. “We often talk about the ‘plastic problem,’ but it is only a symptom of a much deeper dependency on petroleum. We are building a material as functional and accessible as traditional plastic, but derived from a benevolent resource instead. With the regenerative power of seaweed, we plan to replace petroplastic — for good.”
Oceanium: EU-backed Climate Crisis Fighters. Over in Scotland, Oceanium received backing for its concept-stage Ocean Ware food packaging solutions. The company announced a $1 million oversubscribed second seed round, in addition to a €2.1 million grant from the European Union and a $2.7 raise earlier in the year. Seed funding was led by repeat investor Green Angel Syndicate, the only UK angel group focussed on climate change reversal.
“We’re committed to investing in innovation in the fight against climate change. We are delighted to extend our initial investment in Oceanium in this second close of their Seed II fundraising, driven by increased commitment from our angel members and additional investment from our Climate Change Fund,” said Cam Ross, CEO of Green Angel Syndicate in a released statement. “By using our specialist members’ input, we are pleased to be helping Oceanium to develop the sustainable seaweed industry and increase their impact on carbon in the food chain and in materials.”
The combined funding will be used to make a good on a plan to successfully process 150 million tonnes of European seaweed. Full scale-up from pilot to the commercial market stage is anticipated over the next two years.
Notpla: the Sector’s Most Well-funded Algae Packaging Startup. Over in the UK, Notpla reeled in £10 million to commercially produce seaweed-based packaging. Flexible films, coatings, and paper that are ‘notpla-stic’ are included in the product roster. They are set to replace non-recyclable plastic alternatives and are already at pilot stage. Funding was led by Hong Kong’s Horizons Ventures, with existing investors Astranor Ventures, Lupa Systems, and Torch Capital all participating again. Notpla is designed to replace single-use plastic across a myriad of packaging applications. Products will offer viable alternatives to PLA, PHA, and bioplastics, all of which the EU single-use plastic directive aims to ban. A portion of the new funding will be diverted to develop a seaweed fibre paper. This will be made using industrial waste from the production of other Notpla lines.
The company’s signature product, dubbed the “Ooho’, is a fully biodegradable in natural conditions, is edible and already on the market. To date it has replaced 500,000 packaging alternatives at events including the London Marathon.
“We are delighted to accelerate the pace towards a zero single-use plastic future,” said co-CEO Pierre-Yves Palier. “This new round coupled with soon-to-be-announced commercial partnerships is the perfect opportunity to put seaweed on the map of packaging solutions.”
Notpla has already partnered with Just Eat U.K. to trial compostable takeaway boxes made using its plastic-free seaweed coating.
Seaweed’s Big Surge. Seaweed is proving popular beyond packaging too. Sustainable yarn manufacturer AlgiKnit just announced it has opened new production facilities. Based in New York, the company has created a new innovation hub within the Research Triangle of North Carolina where it will develop and commercialise seaweed-based yarn that will help the fashion industry dramatically reduce its emissions.
Globally, numerous startups are using seaweed and algae as the basis for sustainable developments. As a natural material, seaweed offers a low impact broad spectrum of applications. From vegan food creation to compostable packaging and clothing, every facet of life could soon be touched by it.