A promising bioplastic made from B.C. coastal seaweed

“Canadian farmers use 62,000 tons of plastic products and packaging annually and the Agrifoods industry accounts for 1,900,000 tons of plastic products,” says Ranah Chavoshi, a Simon Fraser University (SFU) biologist specializing in Phycology (study of seaweed).

The 29-year-old British-Columbian with Persian roots is doing something about that problem.

Drawing on her phycology expertise she worked in her spare time and on a substitute for petroleum plastic packaging that could benefit from an accessible resource: native B.C. seaweed.

B.C. seaweeds are on the way to becoming a substitute for petroleum plastic packaging. | Photo courtesy of Phyco

With her seven years of experience as a marine biologist specializing in aquatic toxicology and the study of seaweed, and with the help of a renowned researcher, Stacey Goldberg, PhD, she decided to launch a local start-up, PhyCo to develop a durable and minimal carbon impact packaging. Their prototype has several attractive features: supply from the local ecosystem, originating from crops with high production yields and low-maintenance, carbon sequester, and a biodegradable final product. And it sparked the interest of university officials and private impact investors.

A turning point

Chavoshi says that her commitment to finding an alternative to plastic is the result of an “unexpected life-changing moment” while travelling in Malaysia for a Laboratory Volunteering project. In an iconic natural area for scuba diving, she was struck by the overabundance of plastic, everywhere, in the ocean, on the beach, even in the air with the smell of burning plastic that locals tried desperately to eliminate.

“How can I be part of the change?” she wondered.

Back in Vancouver Chavoshi decided to target the problem of single-use plastic packaging that massively pollutes waters from discarded packaging to microplastic from degraded petroleum-based products.

She has channeled all her efforts these last few years to take an active part in this change. In 2021, she won first place in the 2021 Greater Vancouver YMCA Youth Mean Business Pitch Competition and is the 2022 winner of her department’s teaching award for her innovative concept.

Fighting pollution, engaging First Nations

With PhyCo, she is taking the opportunity to make B.C. a leader on new strategies to fight manmade water pollution. Besides focusing her work on a technical method of mixing seaweed powder and non-toxic chemicals to be one of the alternatives of traditional plastic, she is taking the whole project to an inclusive and social level.

Ranah Chavoshi,co-founder and CEO of PhyCo. | Photo courtesy of Phyco

Her systemic approach considers the entire value chain and ensures a local supply by collaborating with Pacific Coast First Nations. PhyCo has built a strong partnership with the coastal communities that can showcase their skills to farm and harvest the Native-Seaweed. The company is trying to inspire a positive dynamic that thinks of the whole process as an opportunity to serve society.

Chavoshi emphasizes that she is willing to offer her guidance to make sure that the project remains sustainable and fair and not damaging to the ecosystem or to society.

Despite her concerns about climate change and her knowledge of the multiple challenges that humanity is going to face soon, the marine biologist is willing to share an optimistic message, that we can all make a change for a better future.

For more information visit: www.phyco.ca