Plastic Free for the Sea: Alternatives to Plastic

Carissa Cabrera

As we near the close of our Plastic Not Fantastic campaign, we’d like to leave you with some true eco-friendly alternatives. There are numerous companies working on innovative materials to stem the plastic tide, and there are already many alternative products out there available to you. Read on to find out more...

Plastic pollution is one of the most alarming conservation issues because it just keeps growing. It has been growing steadily since the 1950s, with land and sea sources of plastic litter polluting our oceans. Plastic does not biodegrade, it only breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces, called microplastics. These small pieces concentrate in coastal environments and are distributed globally by ocean currents. While scientific studies on plastic are relatively new and still emerging, we know that plastic has infiltrated all of our oceans. Micro- and macro-plastics contain toxins, and threaten marine life through ingestion, entanglement, and are passed from organism to organism, travelling throughout the food chain.

When you factor in that plastic is produced using fossil fuels, and its production and degradation further contributes to climate change, it is overwhelmingly obvious that plastic needs to be replaced with sustainable alternatives. Researchers are now suggesting a switch to source-oriented solutions. While clean up efforts are essential, we also need to collectively stop using and producing plastic to solve this growing issue. 

Microplastics found along the beaches of the North Shore of Oahu, Hawaii. Photos: Carissa Cabrera

Below are some some immediate changes you can make in your daily life to reduce your plastic and save our oceans, and a few neat innovations that are actually biodegradable!

Metal & Glass

Opting for products packaged or made out of metal or glass means you can rest assured that they are actually recyclable. Both of these materials can be recycled endlessly without reducing the quality of the material, whilst saving energy on extraction, purification and manufacturing.


Bamboo is a great alternative to plastic, as it’s super fast growing, doesn’t require pesticides, requires minimal watering and produces 35% more oxygen than other plants.

My favourite example is bamboo utensils, which are perfect for takeouts, drive-thrus, and going to food trucks that only offer plastic utensils as a way to eat. You can get your own set from ToGo Ware which includes a knife, spoon, fork, chopsticks, and a container that clips to your bag for anytime use! 

ToGo Ware Bamboo Utensil Set is a great alternative to single-use plastic cutlery. Photo: Carissa Cabrera

ToGo Ware Bamboo Utensil Set is a great alternative to single-use plastic cutlery. Photo: Carissa Cabrera

You can now get bamboo versions of lots of other products, including q-tips, hairbrushes, toothbrushes, homeware, you name it! Anything which comes as bamboo in its natural form (i.e. looking like wood) is a winner. 


A company called Skipping Rocks Lab has developed a seaweed pouch from brown seaweed. The Ohoo seaweed capsules were trialed at the London Marathon this year, delivering sports drinks and water to thirsty runners. Their product can also be used for condiments, replacing plastic sauce pouches, and other liquids. As they’re made of brown seaweed, they are completely edible and can biodegrade in as little as 6 weeks (even in a home compost). They have also developed a film which can be used to waterproof cardboard and used in the food and drink takeaway industry. They are also hoping to replace plastic films and plastic netting for fresh produce.

Another start-up called Loliware have developed straws made from seaweed, which won’t go soggy like a paper straw, but will biodegrade just as well. These straws are dyed with vegetable-based colours, and can be eaten, although they don’t have a flavour yet. Customers such as Marriott will begin using the straws this year, and by 2020 they hope to be able to produce 30 billion straws, with different designs for juice boxes, cocktail stirrers, Boba tea, and frozen desserts, and they’re looking into adding flavours and vitamins too. 

Seaweed is edible, and naturally biodegradable! Photo: Pixabay

Seaweed is edible, and naturally biodegradable! Photo: Pixabay

Beer by-products 

You can now drink your beer and not worry about a turtle getting caught in the plastic rings. Success!

A microbrewery from Florida, Saltwater Brewery, is paving the way for innovative ideas, which reduce plastic and reuse by-products. They produce six pack rings from barley and wheat ribbons leftover from the brewing process. In partnership with Parley For The Oceans, Corona became the first global brand to pilot the ep6r rings.

When disposed of properly, in a composting facility, the rings will break down in several days. If it happens to make its way into the ocean, it will degrade in less than 200 days, depending on the ecosystem where it ends up (according to their website). The product is also made of natural organic materials, that shouldn’t not cause harm to wildlife in the case of ingestion. Saltwater Brewery even give back to ocean based charities CCA, Surfrider, Ocean Foundation, and MOTE Marine Labs. What a company!

Corona have introduced a ‘fit pack’ where their cans screw into one another to create a stack. Carlsberg are taking a different approach, using a glue to hold their cans together, which is estimated to save 137 kilograms of plastic every hour (1,200 tonnes a year). Although they’ll still be adding a plastic handle.

Wheat by-products

Using natural by-products is a fantastic way to cut plastic and waste at the same time. A polish company called BioTrem use wheat bran (a by-product of flour production) into bowls, plates, and cutlery. One 1 tonne of wheat bran can make 10,000 plates or bowls. The best bit? They compost in just 30 days (or you can nibble at them yourself).

Turtle straws (before you ask they’re not made out of turtle!) are using the spare stems of wheat that are left over after harvesting to produce straws that won’t go soggy. And they’re gluten free! You can order them for your business through their website, or buy them for yourself on Amazon

The by-products of wheat can be used to make straws, plates and bowls! Photo: Pixabay

The by-products of wheat can be used to make straws, plates and bowls! Photo: Pixabay

An entrepreneur from Vietnam is using a different type of grass, sedge, to produce both fresh and dry straws, bundled up using banana leaves. Currently only available in Vietnam, these straws offer a fantastic sustainable alternative, as they’re grown, produced and sold in the same country, demonstrating how people can find local solutions to global problems.

Tomorrow Machine

These guys are completely changing the way we think about packaging. By combining science and creativity, they’ve come up with self-opening packages based on biomimicry, and a range called ‘This too shall pass’. Designed to have the same life span as the products they contain, they’ve pioneered 3 different packaging solutions to oil, drinks and grains using a variety of natural ingredients from caramelised sugar, to seaweed or beeswax. 


The Avani bag is made from cassava, which is an edible root, also known as yuka, arrowroot or tapioca. It dissolves in water (which you can then drink!) and composts within 6 months. 

These are just a handful of materials being used to replace and transition away from plastic, and they only scrape the surface. Replacing single-use plastic permanently can help you pave the way toward a more sustainable future, and help you to teach others how to live more mindfully. These easy alternatives will not only protect our oceans, but support sustainable businesses, save us money, and live an overall healthier life with less exposure to harmful toxins.

There is an accessible market of zero waste, plastic free, products around the planet! Some small zero waste companies I love are Package Free Shop, Zero Waste Shop UK, and The Wild Minimalist. While corporations like Amazon and many online retailers have products that can be shipped globally, I encourage you to research within your local area and support small ventures in your community (whilst minimising the carbon footprint of your products). Where you put your dollar matters. 

If all 7 billion of us used these products instead of single-use plastic, there would be no demand for corporations to keep manufacturing it. Living intentionally is one of the most amazing solutions we can offer our planet. Let’s start now!

If you’ve enjoyed this article from Carissa you can follow her here @carissacabrera

This month, The Marine Diaries will be sharing our knowledge on plastic pollution to help educate the public about the impact of our actions on marine life, in the hope of promoting change. Together we can fight plastic.

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