While the term “farmed fish” usually pops up in a discussion about aquaculture, aquatic plants are also an important part of the industry. In 2014, world production of farmed aquatic plants amounted to 27.3 million tonnes, worth $5.6 billion — that’s a quarter of all aquaculture by volume. These plants are a source of food in some parts of the world, but also yield products for the cosmetics industry, health treatments, and now it seems as a replacement for plastic packaging.
In a Wired article published last month, co-founder of a company that introduced edible water bottles (made with brown seaweed) claims aquatic plants, “will emerge as an alternative raw material to oil.” Seaweeds are cheap and easy to grow, and very versatile.
Utilizing seaweeds for product packaging is nothing short of a genius solution to the world’s plastic problem. Many of the products encased in plastic have a much shorter shelf life than their container, which often produces unnecessary waste. For example, the sushi you picked up for lunch will spoil long before the plastic container degrades into millions of tiny particulates that continue to pollute environments for hundreds of years. There’s really no need for such a long-lived product, and the harm is being seen in sea birds, turtles, marine mammals and more. So what if these plastic packages could be made from the biodegradable material of seaweeds? The environmental impact of reducing plastic waste is enormous, and comes at a time when more and more nations are banning plastic products.
Additionally, seaweed farming is sustainable. Not only do aquatic plants require very few inputs (no need to water or fertilize), but their existence actually improves the marine ecosystem by taking in carbon dioxide and acting as carbon sinks. On a grand scale, this helps reduce ocean acidity and warming.
As nations begin to push back on plastic and novel designs become feasible, seaweeds seem to be positioned perfectly. The benefits of farming aquatic plants is well known, but this new use could simultaneously help solve one of humanity’s greatest challenges. Here’s hoping 2018 brings a seaweed revolution.