December of the year 2021 is a month with many promises to bear. As we end this year with high environmental and social prospects, we must burst into the New Year with determination to extend the warmth this time brings. Be it winter or summer, December is a special time of recollection, charity, and gratitude, from which to take on the world with a fresh perspective, seeking solutions beyond the green (or snow-white) expanse of land and into the blue horizon. The ocean plays a valuable role in the global carbon cycle, a key actor in which is seaweed. Indeed, algae is a powerful organism providing vast ecosystem benefits, from the ocean to our ever-growing consumption needs. During this festive season, the question is particularly pertinent: how can seaweed improve the sustainability of your Christmas?
Let us start with your dinner table, filled with plates of steaming vegetables and, perhaps, tasty meats. The squash and potatoes are classically seasoned; to diversify your palette, why not try sprinkling dried seaweed into the mixture, for that added umami flavour? Plus, if you’re interested in planted-based protein alternatives to the traditional turkey, look no further, for algae is gaining momentum in vegan spaces thanks to its nutritional value and protein content. Praised as a superfood, it is a regular ingredient in East Asian cuisine, but is beginning to profit from innovative research underway in the West. In addition to being a delicious food, seaweed has promising carbon sequestration abilities, giving it great potential to be a carbon neutral product.
Read our blog The Seaweed Carbon Tunnel Vision to learn more about the current science on this subject!
Savouring your meal, you gaze at the children playing on your carpet, opening presents. The paper rips and the plastic crinkles as the packaging falls to the floor and squeals of joy are heard. You will later pick up the polyethene and toss it in the garbage, heart churning a little at the amount of plastic which continues to build as the days go by. But, what if all of
it could be disposed in your compost instead? More and more companies are creating bio-based plastics; seaweed is one of their sources. One of its advantages is that seaweed bioplastic can be completely biodegradable within a span of three months in one’s garden, on top of being entirely safe and edible for curious, teething children (choking hazards
set aside). Seaweed bio paper for packaging food is also a science in testing and shows significant promise thanks to its grease and waterproof properties. In essence, seaweed can be anything from a biofertilizer which enhances soil nutrients while increasing crop growth, to bio packaging and biofuel, replaced with seaweed, helping to decarbonise the entire product chains that create a loving Christmas present.
For the moment this remains an ideal eco-friendly Christmas. The truth is that seaweed, despite its numerous qualities, has a small market and lacks the demand for more businesses to invest in bringing it to scale. While some of the innovative prospects mentioned above are already in production and proving their worth, others are still very limited in their development. Overall challenges are competitivity of price, overcoming established products, scalability, and consumer demand.
While the use of seaweed as a biofertilizer and in food is already widely appreciated, most other solutions need further support to reach retail availability. For example, bio-based packaging encounters the obstacle of competing with traditional and fully functioning polyethene plastic and cardboard, itself resurgent in popularity. Seaweed biofuel is another product which encounters similar struggles concerning production cost and scalability, despite promising funding in the sector.
While all these challenges are gradually being tackled, a large impetus in catalysing financing and inviting scalability of this product will be customer demand. When we see our blue and green globe from among the weightless stars, don’t we all feel a bit frail and powerless? Perhaps our everyday actions seem meaningless when facing the scale of an entire world… But it’s time to realize that they aren’t, especially once we realize how much our choices can shape lives and minds. By stronger demands and conscious consumption, you invest in yours and your future generations’ health, as well as in the livelihoods of hard-working coastal communities. Let this Christmas be a chance for change.