Mark Wood: Hello, Pierre. First of all, making plastic packaging disappear is what Notpla is all about. Tell us about this change, why it's so important that Notpla is doing it and the role of Notpla in taking on that rather big, bold statement.
Pierre Paslier: Notpla is a sustainable packaging start-up. We created it out of this need to get ourselves out of this plastic problem. Everyone is now very conscious of how much pollution is coming from plastic packaging and we really need to address this. And in a way, we thought that we could use nature's solutions to fight our own human-made problems by leveraging the incredible power of seaweed to create new packaging solutions that are natural and even edible in some cases.
MW: It's a revolutionary kind of concept at the core. Something that's going to take on the might of plastic through a seaweed-based material. There must have been some ups and downs on that journey.
PP: Definitely. I think we have a very efficient system working around plastic, so anything that you try to bring in to make that better for the environment is going to have to somehow retrofit in a place where natural materials aren't really suitable. Plastic is pretty much indestructible. So it's a very useful function at the time of making products because you can make all sorts of things, but then it's an awful kind of property when you want to get rid of it. Natural materials have a lot of limitations, but it's very easy for them to disappear at the end of life because they are part of the natural cycle. So there are a lot of the challenges when taking a natural material and pushing it through an industrial process to have scale and efficiency, but essentially not pushing it too far that nature doesn't recognise it at the end of its cycle. I think a lot of people are also really willing to engage and try to find better solutions. Overall, we are seeing a lot of positive attitudes towards these new solutions.
MW: When we started this collaboration between Superunion and what is now Notpla, I remember we sat down and discussed a material name, a kind of Gortex or a Teflon type of name for the brand. Can you explain why that was important and why that was the direction we needed to take?
PP: We realised that the power of giving a name to the material was going to make it so much easier for people to actually see value in what this material can do. The problem with packaging is this invisible layer between us and the contents that we are purchasing and we don't see it anymore, we don't engage with it. When you walk into a supermarket, you don't realise that all you see is plastic. And for us, when we realised that we could create a material derived from seaweed that would do all of these amazing things, being natural, being biodegradable, even edible in some cases, for the little bubbles that we're using for marathons or sachets for takeaways, we thought that that would highlight what this material does, and people would perceive that value. I think that from a brand perspective, that gives a lot of future proofing to Notpla, to be the partner for other brands to work with the best sustainable packaging solution on the market.
MW: You've been in many other partnerships, whether it's with Lucozade or Unilever or Glenlivet. How do you use creativity to engage with those brands and bring them along on Notpla’s journey?
PP: From the beginning, those partnerships required creativity because we're a start-up, they are well established organisations. Just to find a common ground requires a bit of getting out of your comfort zone from both parties. And then because we are on our journey to have the impact we want to have, and they're on a journey to also improve products they put out there and their responsibility to make the best choices available to them. At that point, we can't just rely on things that are already tested and existing. We have to take a bit of risk and that means we have to bounce some ideas, test some slightly crazier ones. Sometimes it doesn't work, but I think that we engage at a highly creative level to be able to find something that works.
MW: You've been on this journey with many creative leaps along the way. Where could Notpla go next? What are you trialling, what are you testing? What are you inventing with this amazing material for the future?
PP: We've got a really exciting pipeline of other sustainable packaging solutions using seeds and plants. We want to bring to the market a catalogue of sustainable packaging solutions that are going to replace plastic. This edible capsule that contains liquids. It could be for energy drinks for marathons or cocktails for parties and festivals. It's completely edible.
And now we've just launched this takeaway box for food deliveries that is made of cardboard and coated with seaweed. We have something that is natural, biodegradable and recyclable. We're always trying to find a way to use as much of the whole seaweed plant and to incorporate other waste streams from some of our clients into their own packaging, so that we can package their products with whatever they're already extracting in the first place.
MW: Brilliant. I know we're having discussions with other partners about how Notpla can play a role in driving those sustainability goals and having a big impact on reducing the amount of single-use plastics. Thanks very much, Pierre. Really great to hear the story and hear what interesting and amazing products you're working on.
PP: Thank you so much for having me.
Watch the full interview on Youtube.