The future of food packaging may come from the ocean

By Liam Taylor 12 January 2023

Your tasty burger could soon come wrapped in paper coated in a seaweed extract instead of the plastic currently used.

Researchers from Flinders University working in collaboration with German biomaterials developer one • fıve have created a biopolymer from seaweed extracts that is both non-pollutive and grease resistant. The biomaterial has been designed to replace conventional fossil fuel-based plastic coatings used in most fast-food packaging.

The standard grease-resistant paper used to wrap burgers, wraps and other types of fast food is coated in plastic and often other chemicals such as polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) that are potentially harmful to both the environment and human health. This new seaweed-based substance could replace all of that with a sustainable and ecologically responsible alternative.

“We are able to reduce harmful plastic pollution with this product, and we are also using feedstock that is environmentally regenerative,” said Claire Gusko, one • fıve co-founder, in a press release from Flinders University.

“Seaweed cultivation helps to naturally rehabilitate marine environments, reduce greenhouse gases, and mitigate coastal erosion. It’s important for us to use sustainable inputs upstream to ensure our products are environmentally safe, from cradle to grave.”

The impact of the material goes beyond replacing harmful plastic and chemicals however, with it also being recyclable. The seaweed extracts have a similar structure to the natural fibres of paper, meaning as long as it isn’t contaminated with food the seaweed packaging could theoretically go straight into home recycling bins.

The seaweed used to develop the biomaterial is native to the South Australian coastline. Extracts are taken from the seaweed and transformed through a proprietary processing methodology to produce functional biopolymer sheets that can be cut or coated onto various surfaces, depending on the application. Flinders University and one • five are now seeking to create a commercially viable product by scaling production up from the laboratory to the factory.

The number of sustainable applications for various types of seaweed is quickly growing in both Australia and around the world. Types of Australian seaweed are being used as a feed additive to reduce greenhouse gases from cattle, create biodegradable and compostable alternatives to single-use plastics and in the development of more sustainable food products.

Planet Ark does not take responsibility for the accuracy of the original information and encourages readers to check the references before using this information for their own purposes.

Liam Taylor
Prior to joining Planet Ark Liam spent his time studying global environmental issues, travelling Southeast Asia on the cheap and working for a sustainable property management company in Bali, Indonesia. Joining the communications team at Planet Ark, he hopes to inspire positive environmental behaviour through effective and positive messaging.