While it's true that switching to paper straws isn’t a cure-all for saving the turtles, the oceans, and the rest of the planet, providing single-use plastic alternatives is necessary as cities and countries begin to phase out single-use plastics like in California and ban them entirely like in Canada, the European Union, and most recently, England.
That’s where companies like Loliware come in. With a brand new $15.4 million in funding, the New York City and Bay Area-headquartered startup is aiming to continue the blue economy revolution, replacing single-use plastics with seaweed.
Bans like those passed last month in England aren’t impactful without replacements, Loliware’s CEO Sea Briganti told the food and agriculture tech publication AgFunder in an interview.
“Bans are only effective and impactful if you can provide businesses with solutions,” she said. “It’s not fair, otherwise. We have to be collaborative here.”
To replace plastic once and for all, Loliware is collaborating with nature. The startup partners with farmers all around the world to grow and harvest its seaweed, never touching what grows naturally in the wild. After harvesting their seaweed, Loliware turns it into ‘SeaTech’ pellets to create products, and then in circular economy fashion, used products go right back into the ground.
Loliware was founded in 2016 and three years later they began developing a seaweed straw as the great straw ban debate reached a height. According to AgFunder, they wanted to be inclusive because outright straw bans affect people who are disabled, elderly, or children. Thus, their first product was the Blue Carbon Straw: a seaweed-based straw that can decompose as fast as a banana peel and enrich the soil it's composted in.
Loliware currently works with Missouri-based plastic manufacturer Sinclair and Rush to produce 100 million straws a year, providing them to mostly food service groups. Currently, they have 15 customers, but according to Briganti, they will launch 20 more this year, a mix of large companies and small businesses.
But Loliware’s mission goes far beyond the straw. Because of the pelletization process, Loliware’s seaweed pellets are fully compatible with existing plastic extruding equipment, which is a barrier to many other bioplastic products. Thus, they hope to show that seaweed can compete with plastic at scale.
Furthermore, aside from replacing plastic straws and other products, seaweed is one of the best natural forms of carbon capture in the world, the company says, even more than land-based trees. It captures 5-20 times the carbon of terrestrial forests and permanently stores it in the seafloor.
“By harnessing the regenerative and carbon-capturing powers of seaweed, our products replace plastic while healing the ocean by disappearing,” Loliware says on its website.
In addition to capturing carbon, the usage of seaweed has another environmental advantage: it doesn’t require the fertilizer of crops like canola, corn, and tree-based options, and avoids the notable biodiversity loss offender, monoculture.
Thus with all the benefits, Loliware says it tackles the triple threat of climate change, plastic pollution, and biodiversity loss.
According to the company, the $15.4 million in Series A funding makes Loliware the market’s best-funded seaweed materials tech company. The funding will go towards research and development of novel seaweed resins and new products like cups, utensils, and films. In response to England’s new ban, they will even be launching their seaweed utensils in London in May.
This round included investors like L Catterton, CityRock Venture Partners, Alumni Ventures Group, Geekdom Fund, Ehukai Investments, 5 Pillars Capital, and founders of Kilara Capital, Kiss the Ground, Nutiva, Blue Bottle Coffee, as well as their manufacturer Sinclair and Rush.
“Climate change is a worldwide problem, and our pelletized seaweed resins are a step toward a solution,” Briganti said via the company’s press release. “By reducing CO2 emissions and strengthening the ocean-based ‘blue economy,’ our seaweed-derived products make it clear that regenerating the Earth is good business.”
She adds: “Demand for seaweed-based products promotes the creation of seaweed-farming operations in coastal communities worldwide. This not only creates jobs where they are needed most but these undersea forests filter and oxygenate oceans while capturing carbon.”