Margarita Talep uses material extracted from algae

Chile-based designer creates sustainable, biodegradable alternative to single-use packaging

Disappointed by the abundance of non-recyclable materials currently used to contain food products,  Chile-based designer Margarita Talep created a sustainable, biodegradable alternative to single-use packaging, using raw material extracted from algae.

Particularly concerned that we commonly allocate an indestructible material to packaging that is quickly disposed of, it was essential that the resulting organic material would easily break down.

The material only includes natural matter, including the dyes used to colour it, which are extracted from the skins of fruits and vegetable such as blueberries, purple cabbage, beetroot and carrot. The basic mixture is made up of a polymer, a plasticiser and an additive, with the amounts of each ingredient varying depending on the desired consistency of the final product.

The polymer and main ingredient in this case is agar – a jelly-like polysaccharide substance that is extracted from red algae by boiling. Talep adds water as a plasticiser and natural dyes to add colour. To make a material that bears a close resemblance to thin plastic, Talep boils the agar mixture to around 80oCelsius, before transferring the molten liquid onto a mould.

When the liquid drops to a temperature below 20oCelsius , it takes on a gel-like consistency. This is then left to dry in a well-ventilated environment with a constant temperature, until it becomes similar to paper or thin plastic.

Intended as a replacement for single-use or disposable plastics, Talep's algae packaging is designed to biodegrade in around two to three months, depending on the thickness of the material and the temperature of the soil. reported how some bioplastics are being criticised for only decomposing in warm temperatures over 30oCelsius. Talep insists that, while bio-degradation is indeed slower in cooler, winter temperatures, it is not less effective.

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