Notpla and Just Eat Takeaway Give Takeout Customers A Better Carryout Box Made From Seaweed

by Bill McCool on 04/06/2022 | 4 Minute Read

“Finally, a box that is truly made to biodegrade.”

That’s the copy you’ll find on Just Eat Takeaway’s carryout packaging. Plastic gets crossed out, and seaweed is checked off, a nod to the innovative material used for the to-go containers.

We don’t need to remind you of the single-use smorgasbord that is restaurant takeaway packaging. All you need to do is order your favorite go-to fried treat, and the next thing you know you’re looking at a plastic bag holding a brown paper bag filled with a plastic tub full of delicious eats and some plastic spoons and forks. Or maybe you got one of those cardboard boxes lined with a plastic coating that’s impossible to recycle. Either way, it’s not even close to ideal.

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Worst still are the eye-opening numbers behind single-use plastics in the restaurant industry. According to a recent study, the most common pieces of trash found in our oceans are single-use bags, plastic bottles, food wrappers, food containers, and plastic cutlery.

The recent collaboration between sustainable packaging startup Notpla, the makers of Ooho, and global online food ordering service Just Eat Takeaway offers consumers a roadmap to break free of conventional single-use plastics. The to-go packaging gets made with a liner using seaweed, and it's just as greaseproof and water-resistant as it was before. Essentially, it's the same takeout container but home compostable and recyclable.

Better still, it can degrade in just 29 days.

While both companies have been trialing the seaweed-coated packaging for the past couple of years, it's becoming more of an everyday presence to their regular customers as it expands across European markets. We spoke with Notpla commercial director Tristan Kaye about the origins of their collaboration with Just Eat Takeaway and what the future has in store for seaweed takeout containers.

(This conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.)

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What kickstarted the partnership with Just Eat Takeaway?

Just Eat Takeaway (JET) understands the packaging challenges existing in the takeaway and delivery sector better than most. On the one hand, a business like theirs relies on food being packed for delivery. On the other hand, that creates a significant waste problem. And it’s one that only grows as JET (and the wider delivery market) grows too. 

JET has some really bold aspirations for its sustainability agenda. So we started working together many years ago to explore how we might support in creating a viable alternative to plastic takeaway food packaging.

We took our Ooho—our main product at that time—and then adapted the technology to replace the hidden plastic and other bio-plastic coatings that line cardboard food containers. These coatings typically render the cardboard non-recyclable or can only be treated in specific waste management facilities, the likes of which we don’t really have in the UK. Even more insidiously, a range of so-called "environmentally friendly" packaging can potentially contain PFAs (per-or Polyfluoroalkyl substances), otherwise known as "forever chemicals."

Having run several smaller-scale trials with JET over the past year, we’re now very proud to have launched the first seaweed coating for cardboard packaging.

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Photo: Longlong Han

This is a more large-scale launch of the seaweed takeaway box. Where is it available to consumers now?

Our first trial of Notpla x JET takeaway boxes ran in the UK a couple of years ago, with another expanded pilot in 2021. The major launch began with the UK market and has since rolled out to Thuisbezorgd in The Netherlands and Lieferando in Germany. JET plan to continue adding more European markets throughout 2022, with wider regions around JET’s 26 global markets starting in 2023.

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Why was the takeout sector such a priority for Notpla?

We’re focusing solely on addressing the single-use packaging problem—those packaging applications where the product is in the consumers’ hands for minutes but persists in our natural environment for hundreds of years.

In the UK, an estimated 500 million plastic takeaway boxes get used each year. This area is a classic example of where packaging typically gets used only once, so it felt right for us to focus on developing a viable alternative. While many of those are touted, we’ve found that not all is as it seems. There’s a lot of greenwashing going on—it’s leaving consumers confused. That didn’t feel right to us.

The wonderful feedback we’ve heard from restaurants using our packaging supports the proposition that consumers really do want positive change. It makes us feel really proud when we see our coated boxes in the wild. We have little competitions around our office to see who can photograph our boxes in use.

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