IMPACT JORNALISM DAY 2015: ENVIRONMENT

Plastic made from seaweed

This story was first published on June 20, 2015

IS THERE such a thing as environmentally friendly plastic?

Frenchman Remy Lucas may have found the answer: by using seaweed, instead of oil, to make plastic.

This special plastic, made using extracts from seaweed grown in Brittany, France, has many different applications, from caps and lids, to mobile phone cases and supermarket trolley tokens.

The process used by Algopack, a company Mr Lucas founded five years ago, seems simple enough: Extract a powder from brown seaweed and add plant additives to produce granules that can then be used by plastics manufacturers to make end-products.

Seaweed is a natural resource that exists in unlimited quantities and can be farmed in an environmentally friendly way.

It stores carbon dioxide and gives out oxygen, encouraging marine biodiversity.

The end-products take 12 weeks to biodegrade in soil - compared with four to 10 centuries for normal plastics - and just five hours in the sea.

By substituting oil with seaweed, Algopack also helps to clear up the unprecedented volumes of gulfweed swamping the coastal areas of the West Indies and Guyana.

Seaweed is also cheap. Hence, Algopack can sell its products at €1,500 (S$2,300) per tonne, cheaper than the €2,000 for most bioplastics made from cereals or sugar cane, though slightly more expensive than normal plastic, which costs about €1,200.

Production of the "seaweed plastic" started in 2013, and industrial production is expected to start next year.

The company is currently running a fundraising campaign for its expansion which will require more than €5 million.

CAROLINE DE MALET/LE FIGARO (FRANCE)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 15, 2016, with the headline 'Plastic made from seaweed'. Print Edition | Subscribe