In the fight against plas­tic waste, one In­done­sian startup is cre­at­ing food pack­ag­ing from sea­weed

An In­done­sian startup keen to fight plas­tic waste has cre­ated eco-friendly, zero-waste pack­ag­ing with a twist – it’s made of sea­weed, and you can eat it

Southeast Asia Globe - - Feature - – Cristyn Lloyd

The next time an In­done­sian junk food lover sinks his or her teeth into a burger, they might think twice about throw­ing away the plas­tic wrap­per. Af­ter all, if it was pro­duced by Evoware, there's a rea­son­able chance the wrap­per is more nu­tri­tious than the burger it­self. Us­ing sea­weed as a raw ma­te­rial, the In­done­sian startup has cre­ated a plas­tic wrap that it says is en­tirely en­vi­ron­men­tally friendly – and ed­i­ble.

“Plas­tics are con­tam­i­nat­ing every­thing – our air, our food and even our wa­ter. Re­cent stud­ies [by Orb Me­dia] said that drink­ing wa­ter [in Jakarta] is 76% con­tam­i­nated by mi­croplas­tics,” says Evoware co-founder David Chris­tian.

Plas­tic is a par­tic­u­larly big prob­lem in In­done­sia, ac­cord­ing to a 2015 study pub­lished in the jour­nal Science, which found that the archipelagic na­tion is the world's sec­ond-worst cul­prit, be­hind only China, in terms of con­tribut­ing plas­tic waste to the ocean.

Evoware's sea­weed-based pack­ag­ing dis­solves in warm wa­ter, cre­at­ing zero waste, and is al­most com­pletely odour­less and taste­less. “Ba­si­cally it's not plas­tic, be­cause we don't use any petroleum-based [prod­ucts] or plas­tics in it. It's ed­i­ble be­cause it's 100% made from sea­weed,” Chris­tian says.

The ma­te­rial is aimed at be­com­ing the go-to for small sa­chets such as one-cup cof­fee pack­ets and the sea­son­ing pack­ets found in instant noo­dles, which are cur­rently dif­fi­cult to re­cy­cle due to the pres­ence of numer­ous ma­te­ri­als that are tricky to sep­a­rate. Sin­gle-use pack­ag­ing for take­away foods such as burg­ers and sand­wiches are also a tar­get.

Given In­done­sia's sta­tus along with China as “by far the largest sea­weed pro­duc­ers” in the world, ac­cord­ing to an ar­ti­cle in the Euro­pean Jour­nal of Phy­col­ogy, Evoware's prod­ucts have the po­ten­tial for a sec­ond so­cial im­pact. In 2014, the two coun­tries each farmed more than 10m tonnes of sea­weed, cre­at­ing a vast over­sup­ply for In­done­sia that Chris­tian hopes his com­pany can help make a dent in – im­prov­ing the liveli­hoods of farm­ers in the process.

“Maybe our prod­ucts will be more ex­pen­sive [than con­ven­tional plas­tics], even when we do mass pro­duc­tion… be­cause we still want to help the farm­ers,” he says. “We want a fair price. We don't want to push the sea­weed farm­ers so that they are sell­ing us re­ally cheap sea­weed.”

The team only launched their ed­i­ble pack­ag­ing at the end of Septem­ber, but they are al­ready strug­gling to meet the high de­mand, par­tic­u­larly from out­side of In­done­sia, ac­cord­ing to Chris­tian. They are now fo­cus­ing on build­ing a big­ger pro­duc­tion fa­cil­ity and de­vel­op­ing the ver­sa­til­ity of the prod­uct be­yond food and bev­er­age pack­ag­ing.

“The re­ac­tion has been great,” says Chris­tian. “Right now we are still very new… We are hope­ful. We want to re­place plas­tics, but we need to do it [lit­tle by lit­tle], I think. That's the long-term goal.”

• Evoware’s sea­weed-based pack­ag­ing in its var­i­ous guises

• In­done­sia is one of the world’s largest pro­duc­ers of sea­weed

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