• Keeley Durnell

Ooho Pods: The Plastic Alternative Pod That You CAN Eat

Source: Image copyright belongs to Notpla Limited

Here at Fullest Media, we tend to talk a lot about plastic and its effect on the environment, and with good reason: every stage of the plastic process – from cradle to grave – contributes heavily to climate change. But if you’ve heard it all before, I’ll just go over the facts:

1. The world produces 380 million tons of plastic a year

2. 50% of this plastic is for single-use items. These are items that are used once and then thrown away which include sauce sachets, food wrappers and bottle caps.

3. 1 million marine animals are killed by plastic pollution every year. Not surprising when 10 million tons of plastic is dumped into the ocean over the same time period.

4. Less than 9% of all plastic gets recycled.

Graphic created by Josh Stevenson

This over-reliance on plastic is a big problem because on top of the detrimental effects it has on the health of humans and creatures worldwide, the greenhouse gases the plastic process produces are harmful to our planet.

The greenhouse gases get trapped within the Earth’s atmosphere, heating it up and causing a multitude of problems including flooding of coastal cities, desertification of fertile land, glacial melting and increases in the number of hurricanes we experience. These problems have long-lasting and devastating consequences for all life on Earth.

And the greenhouse gases are just one of the problems that come from plastic production. Many areas get deforested to make way for oil development facilities, the incineration of plastic waste releases thousands of pollutants into the air, and the microplastics produced from the breakdown of plastic waste prevent some species of plant life from being able to thrive and photosynthesise correctly.

Packing Plastic Away

The single biggest contributor in terms of plastic consumption is plastic packaging. It makes up 40% of all plastic usage. And this fact was not lost on Rodrigo Garcia Gonzalez and Pierre Paslier, co-founders of Skipping Rocks Lab. Whilst studying together at Imperial College London in 2013, Gonzalez and Paslier realised how little was being done to combat the use of plastics in packaging, and took it upon themselves to make that happen.

They began working on their product together, and posted a video of their ideas online which got them accepted into Climate KIC, Europe’s largest funded accelerator for climate innovation.

There they gathered a team of scientists and engineers at Imperial College, and began testing this product for practical use and upon finding it a success, they started working on the technology they would need to create their product on a larger scale.

This process brought them to April of 2017, where they used the money crowdfunded from their Crowdcube page to build their first machine and manufacturing plant in London.

And from there, the company has only grown. In the summer of 2018, Sky Ocean Ventures decided to invest in the business, meaning that Gonzalez and Paslier were able to expand their staff roster and begin developing new products with the material they had created.

As of today, they are not currently accepting any more monetary donations from crowdfunding, and are working diligently with several companies to distribute their finished product to as many places as possible, whilst still working hard on the applications of the material beyond their finished product.

So what is the miracle product?

The name of the product is Ooho, and it is a flexible packaging pod designed for containing beverages and sauces, replacing the need for single-use plastic cups and sachets. The product is made from Notpla, which is made from a combination of seaweed and other plants.

Seaweed is a perfect resource to replace harmful materials as it is one of nature’s most renewable resources. As it states on the Notpla website, it grows ‘up to 1m per day, it doesn’t compete with food crops, doesn’t need fresh water or fertiliser and actively contributes to de-acidifying our oceans.’

But the main reason that I am impressed with the Ooho is that with the materials that it is made from, the entire thing is 100% edible! No need for a single drop of waste or finding a suitable place to store your rubbish until you can find a place to recycle it. But, even if the idea of eating the pod doesn’t seem very appealing to you (it’s apparently entirely tasteless), then the pod is still fully biodegradable and will degrade naturally in 4-6 weeks.

Changing your Big Event Experience

The Ooho has been trialled at big events such as the Virgin Money London Marathon and outdoor festivals, and they were a massive hit with the consumers there. They were still able to hold water, energy drinks, and spirits, without having to physically stop and take a drink. Runners and festival-goers alike could just pop the pod in their mouth, bite down and be instantly hydrated with no mess or waste.

This product could revolutionise big outdoor events and the need for mass clean up afterwards, not to mention the hazard of having plastic strewn all around an area where people will be running and dancing and not necessarily fully aware of their surroundings.

The other big use the Ooho has is in the takeaway industry, which is what it was originally designed for. Skipping Rocks Lab have teamed up with Just Eat to offer varying sizes of pods for takeaways to distribute their sauces and condiments in, reducing the need for plastic sachets.

As it currently stands, the Ooho is available to buy from the Notpla website in varying quantities, and they are also aiming to have their processing machines available for lease at some point this year. The company also have Notpla-lined cardboard boxes available for purchase, designed for use in takeaways as a greaseproof and waterproof alternative to plastic-lined boxes.

In the future, Skipping Rocks Lab are also hoping to adapt their material for use replacing plastic heat sealable films, sachets for non-food items, and netting.

Perfecting the Product

For now, the Ooho does come with a few flaws. The use is relatively limited because the nature of the material means that it is quite lightweight and therefore at risk of breakage from anything ranging from fire, to pressure, to sharp objects. There is also the issue of transportation and storage for the same reason. And in terms of the edibleness of the pod, once they are unboxed, only the inside of the pod is guaranteed to be 100% germ free, thus calling into question the safety risks of eating the entire pod.

But still, these few setbacks do not mean that the Ooho is not still a million times better and more viable than their plastic alternatives, and they are still actively in development. All in all, I’d say Notpla has a very promising outlook for the future and its impact on plastic reduction. Now all we have to do is wait for the end of the pandemic and the return of large scale events, and perhaps we’ll be seeing a lot more of the Ooho in the future!