Dezeen Magazine

London Marathon offers edible seaweed drinks capsules as alternative to plastic bottles

Over 30,000 edible drinks capsules made from seaweed were handed out to runners at the London Marathon yesterday, in a bid to reduce plastic waste.

The marathon was the largest ever trial of Ooho capsules – biodegradable pods that can be filled with water or other beverages.

You can either consume the pods whole, or bite into them to release the liquid. Made from a seaweed-based substance, the discarded wrapping will naturally decompose in four to six weeks – roughly the same time as a piece of fruit.

Ooho drinks capsules at London Marathon
Ooho capsules filled with Lucozade Sport were handed out to marathon runners

Ooho pods are made by Skipping Rocks Lab, a London-based startup led by Royal College of Art graduates Rodrigo Garcia Gonzalez and Pierre Paslier.

Capsules filled with Lucozade Sport

During the marathon, the capsules were filled with energy drink Lucozade Sport Orange and handed out to runners from a station 23 miles into the 26.2-mile course.

Introduction of the capsules formed part of a push from London Marathon organisers to make this year's event the most sustainable marathon ever.

Last year an estimated 760,000 plastic bottles were thrown onto the city's streets by runners and spectators. The target for 2019 was to bring this number down by 215,000.

Ooho drinks capsules at London Marathon
The pods are edible, so you can consume them whole

The total number of drinks stations was reduced from 26 to 19, including the one distributing edible Ooho pods. Plus two of the stations were handing out drinks in compostable cups.

To further reduce the marathon's carbon footprint, plastic bottles dropped in the London boroughs of Tower Hamlets, Greenwich and Southwark are being taken to a recycling plant where they will be turned into new bottles, as part of a closed-loop system.

Decomposes faster than PLA bioplastic

Rodrigo Garcia Gonzalez and Pierre Paslier first started developing the technology for Ooha in 2013, after graduating from the RCA's Innovation Design Engineering programme, which is in partnership with Imperial College London.

Today they manufacture their Ooho drinks bubbles using a material they developed, called Notpla. They make this material using brown seaweed, so it naturally decomposes much faster than PLA, one of the most widely used bioplastics.

Ooho drinks capsules at London Marathon
Ooho capsules are made from seaweed, so are naturally biodegradable

"It's really simple because it’s a membrane, and membranes are the technology that nature uses to encapsulate things using the minimum amount of material," explained Gonzalez in a talk at the Design Indaba conference in January.

"Seaweed is an amazing resource," he explained. "It doesn't use farmland, you don't need to water it or use fertiliser."

Notpla can also be used as a waterproof and greaseproof coating on cardboard food packaging.

Ooho pods can contain soft drinks or alcohol

The Ooho bubbles can be used for almost any drink, so the company often works with brands. They have previously used them to offer cocktails at music festivals, and also as sachets for ketchup and other sauces.

They are produced on site, using a manufacturing machine developed by Skipping Rocks Lab.

Lucozade Sport first trialled the capsules at the Richmond Marathon in September 2018 and has since distributed them at several races. But the London Marathon presented an opportunity to hand out pods to more people than ever before.

Ooho drinks capsules at London Marathon
They can be used to contain almost any drink

The brand was also handing out drinks in plastic bottles, all of which were made from recycled plastic.

"We are proud to say that all 380 millilitre Lucozade Sport bottles distributed on course at mass-participation sporting events from now on will be made from 100 per cent recycled plastic," said Michelle Norman, director of external affairs and sustainability for Lucozade Ribena Suntory.

"These ambitious initiatives mean we can continue to address the global issue of plastic waste and continue to minimise our impact on the environment."