A UK startup has looked to the oceans for an innovative, eco-friendly alternative to bottled water: a seaweed-based, edible capsule.
The global bottled water market is growing, and much of the waste ends up in landfill or our oceans and waterways. According to IbisWorld, the Australian plastic bottle industry grew steadily between 2013 and 2018, largely driven by demand for water and beverage packaging.
In 2016-17, Australia generated about 103 kg of plastic waste per person, and only 13 per cent was recycled or used for energy recovery.
Skipping Rocks Lab, a startup founded by engineering alumni from Imperial College London, is working to change this. Their efforts include a trial at this month’s London Marathon, where more than 30,000 edible seaweed capsules filled with sports drink will be handed out to runners instead of water bottles.
According to Skipping Rocks Lab COO and CFO Lise Honsinger, feedback on their product, enthusiastically dubbed Ooho, has been positive.
“While they take a bit of getting used to, once people get them they find them almost easier to use than a cup,” she told the Daily Telegraph.
“Hopefully we’ll be in a world in a year’s time when we just don’t use [plastic] water bottles any more.”
Marathons are thirsty work, and Skipping Rocks Lab has identified sporting events like the London Marathon as a key target market. Ten thousand Ooho sachets were previously used to help hydrate runners at London’s Vitality Big Half community running festival.
The company is also running trials of Ooho to package fresh fruit juice, as well as individual serves of sauces and condiments for use in the fast food industry.
The team at Skipping Rocks Lab have an impressive engineering pedigree. Co-founders Rodrigo García González and Pierre-Yves Paslier met as students of Imperial College’s Innovation Design Engineering Masters Course.
González has a track record as an inventor, and bagged Spain’s national Dyson Award in 2012 for a robotic suitcase that trundled after its owner on caterpillar tracks and was guided by a smartphone Bluetooth signal.
Paslier’s background is in packaging engineering and 3D design. The two combined their skills to reduce the environmental impact of packaging by replacing plastic with biodegradable materials derived from plants like seaweed.
According to the company website, the Ooho packaging is tasteless, edible and cheaper to produce than plastic. If it’s discarded, Ooho will degrade in about six weeks, compared to around 700 years for plastic bottles.
The team is also working on a machine that retailers and event managers can use to make fresh Ooho packaging on demand at a rate of 100 sachets every five to 10 minutes.
Skipping Rocks has big plans for the future, and the startup is in talks with other large sporting events in the UK, as well as the organisers of the New York City Marathon, which had more than 50,000 runners cross the finish line last year.
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