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The London Marathon’s method for reducing plastic bottles: Edible seaweed pouches

The biodegradable pouches are a sustainable alternative to plastics, organizers say.

(Facundo Arrizabalaga/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock)

As participants in the London Marathon entered mile 23 on Sunday, they were greeted by a new kind of refreshment: Golf ball-size pouches made from seaweed and filled with a sports drink.

The squishy pods — which look like tiny pillows and were handed out to thousands of passing runners — gave race organizers a chance to cut down on the flood of plastic waste that accompanies major sporting events.

Created by a London-based start-up called Skipping Rocks Lab, the seaweed pouches, known as Ooho, are edible and biodegradable, dissolving in about a month when discarded, according to the company. To access the ounce of liquid inside each pouch, runners merely have to bite into the pouch or place the entire pod inside their mouth and start chewing.

Video taken during the race showed runners doing exactly that, offering race organizers and company officials a mass experiment in the use of an alternative sustainable material.

“What we use is the building blocks of seaweed,” Rodrigo Garcia Gonzalez, a Skipping Rocks Lab founder, told CNN, referring to the pouches thin outer membrane. “We remove all the green stuff and the smelly stuff.”

“The marathon is a milestone. ... We are hoping we will demonstrate that it can be used at scale in the future,” Gonzalez added.

Big Ben runner has bad time at end of London Marathon

Most kinds of plastic water bottles are recyclable, but their use has accelerated so much in recent years that efforts to reuse the material have failed to keep up, according to the Guardian. The paper reports that 1 million plastic bottles are purchased around the world every minute, a rate that is expected to increase in the coming years as demand for the bottles skyrockets in Asia.

Scientists have called plastic litter, which is being dumped in the ocean at alarming rates, “one of this generation’s key environmental challenges.”

Race organizers say they’re attempting to cut down on the use of plastic and assured critics on Twitter this weekend that bottles used in the event would be recycled. In total, CNN reported, the number of plastic bottles was reduced from 920,000 in 2018 to 704,000 this year.

“The changes and the trials we’re introducing for this year have the potential to change how mass participation events are delivered in future,” Hugh Brasher, the marathon director, told CNN.

On their website, Skipping Rocks Lab says it makes “packaging disappear.”

The company claims its seaweed packets can be used for holding more than just water. The company is also pitching the packets as a way to hold alcoholic cocktails, juice and condiments like ketchup and salad dressing.

They asked artificial intelligence to create a game. One of its first ideas involved exploding Frisbees.

“Espresso Martinis have been the most popular product at festivals, where eating the packaging is also part of the experience,” Pierre-Yves Paslier, Garcia Gonzalez’s business partner, told CNN.