March-April 2022 | Rhode Island School of Design
Seaweed packaging is a new way to interact and experience food, improving convenience and replacing plastic with a sustainable and safe alternative.
Approximately 36 per cent of all plastics produced are used in packaging, including single-use plastic products for food and beverage containers, approximately 85 per cent of which ends up in landfills or as unregulated waste. Additionally, it creates the concern for microplastics entering our food stream.
Talking to customers of sustainable brands such as Gotham Greens at Whole Foods stores across Providence, I learnt that a majority of them were conscious about the plastic packaging that their produce comes in, while also wanting to have convenience with pre-cut, pre-washed and packaged items. Other factors included location, availability, taste, durability and cost.
Both, customers and sellers need a material solution that is sustainable, effective and affordable. Two weeks of primary and secondary research pointed me to an affluent natural resource: seaweed, which can function as biodegradable food packaging and a differentiator from synthetic single-use plastics.
Crafted from a blend of green seaweed and biodegradable polymers, the ultrathin dissolvable films serve as a versatile, biodegradable alternative to synthetic packaging. It makes meal preparation effortless and waste-free. Simply expose the packaging to water or heat, and watch it dissolve, leaving no trace behind. This zero-waste approach eliminates the need for trash disposal, making it the ideal choice for environmentally conscious customers. The compact design and biodegradable properties make consumption of food items in remote areas and outdoor use more effective, such that packaging can also be discarded safely.
Prototypes of thin (0.05mm) films using an agar-agar and glycerin formula were aimed at a proof-of-concept which can be sealed to contain a range of condiments in both powder and solid states. Digital fabrication tools such as laser cutters, soldering irons and heat guns were adapted and used for algae sheet operations including cutting, folding, joining and heat-sealing.
Realizing the geometries that this biomaterial can be fabricated into drove the decisions for applications, while utilizing it's property of biodegradability as the core. To elevate the experience through a multi-sensory approach, I've infused the packaging with natural additives that enhance visual appeal, aroma, taste, and texture.
Collecting Algae at Tillinghast
By harnessing the potential of seaweed, this project hopes to nudge the way we consume and enjoy food for broader health and well-being.
"Navigating organizational and community needs to have a system for multi-use of resources"
- Zoe Lee, Co-Founder SCUP Aquaculture
Sharing the Learnings
I got the chance to talk about this project at the Brown RISD Innovation Community Lecture Series, titled Seaweed Structures: An 'Abundant' Resource'