London-based company FlexSea joins a sea of startups scaling seaweed as a solution to ocean plastic pollution.
Seaweed is highly researched as an alternative to plastic and because of its characteristics is, in many cases, more suitable for tasks than other forms of biomass, because it does not need pesticides to grow, can be easily and quickly harvested, and does not take up arable land.
That’s why startups like Polymateria, Kelpy, and now FlexSea have embarked on making seaweed bioplastic the stand-in for single-use plastic, which accounts for half of the 380 million tons of plastic produced annually.
With a £2 million (about $2.4 million) equity seed round, London-based FlexSea aims to take its seaweed bioplastic solution to market and go commercial.
With 380 million tons of plastic produced annually, with up to half being for single-use purposes, the world has a gigantic, albeit solvable pollution problem. As a slew of recent legislation across Europe shows, single-use plastic like straws, cups, utensils, and more, are low-hanging fruit.
Now, a new startup, FlexSea, is joining the ranks of many companies targeting single-use plastic, with its seaweed bioplastic material. With a £2 million (about $2.4 million) equity seed round, the company is scaling its packaging which it says is fully biodegradable in soil and marine environments, can be composted at home in eight to twelve weeks, is edible, and not harmful to wildlife, and produces “no waste” in its low-energy manufacturing process
On top of all this, the startup says the production process eliminates the use of strong chemicals and high temperatures, and with the seaweed growing in a 45-day cycle, it doesn’t require freshwater, arable land, pesticides, or fertilizers.
The founders of London-based FlexSea, Carlo Fedeli and Thibaut Monfort-Micheo, aren’t the only ones who have had the bright idea to turn seaweed into a bioplastic. Earlier this year New York City and Bay Area-headquartered Loliware raised $15.4 million to kelp with plastic bans, growing from a seaweed straw business to one tackling multiple single-use items.
Back in April, Australian startup, Kelpy, launched its seaweed-based bioplastic pellets to replace the oil-based pellets of current plastic producers.
Similarly, other startups like Polymateria have taken to change the chemical composition of plastic altogether. Each of these companies has the same goal: to make plastic disappear, literally. The reason is that, as FlexSea lays out on its website, recycling is currently not a viable solution to the scale of the problem, as only 7% of plastic is actually recycled, with 23% collected and incinerated, and 70% pumped back into nature. Unfortunately, as plastic breaks down, it becomes microplastics and eventually winds up in the food chain and our bodies.
However, if biodegradable, this problem, like the single-used plastic ceases to exist.
The goal of making plastic disappear has garnered the attention of investors. The round was led by Indico Capital Partners, with the participation of RedRice Ventures, Btomorrow Ventures, Food Foundry, Vala Capital, ICON Capital, and Pente Capital. “FlexSea has the potential to change the pattern of human consumption of plastic and therefore change the sustainability path of our planet,” Stephan Morais, managing partner at Indico Capital, said in a statement.
Dubbed FlexSeable Film, FlexSea’s biopolymer material is derived from seaweed, and what the startup says are “other natural, sustainably sourced additives.” The company says it has applications for food packaging, windowing, and non-food packaging like cosmetics, and textiles. Like other bioplastic startups, the British company also makes “FlexTrusion” pellets to replace current plastic-making pellets.
According to Fedeli, the investors have a “clear commercial direction that can help us bring our materials to market and make seaweed biomaterials a widely available and true alternative to single-use plastics.”