Imagine: You’re running the 26.2 miles of the London Marathon for the first time. As you round mile twenty-three, your heart is thumping, your feet are sore, and your throat is parched. Just when you most need a reminder of your capacity for physical and mental endurance, a volunteer hands you a cool, refreshing…seaweed pouch. This scenario isn’t as improbable as it sounds. At the 2019 London Marathon, volunteers passed edible seaweed pouches filled with sports drinks out to runners rounding their twenty-third mile.

Ooho pods, the edible seaweed pouches, are available online through various retailers seeking to capitalize on the intrigue surrounding a novelty product. The London based startup that developed the ooho pods, Skipping Rocks Lab, doesn’t want its product to be a novelty. In their ideal world, say the three design students who founded the startup in 2014, edible seaweed pouches would replace plastic water bottles. Seeking to design a biodegradable alternative to plastic, Skipping Rocks’ Lab’s founders used a membrane shape, for the same reason this shape is found so often in nature. 

It’s ideal for transporting liquid, because the liquid doesn’t need to be compressed. They were also inspired by espresso martinis, which are popular with music festival attendees because consuming the packaging is part of what makes the drink unique. Bringing their product to the London Marathon is a logical extension of the startup’s marketing goals. By providing their product at large, outdoor, public events, the founders hope to so completely familiarize consumers with seaweed pouches that using them is a more natural choice (in every sense) than using plastic water bottles.

Roughly forty-one thousand people run the London Marathon each year. Along with energy drinks served in compostable cups, the seaweed pouches decreased the number of plastic bottles used from nine hundred twenty thousand in 2018 to seven hundred four thousand in 2019. Additionally, any plastic bottles the runners dropped were gathered for recycling after the event. The London Marathon’s public commitment to promoting environmental sustainability might change the way organizers of public events worldwide handle plastic products.

According to a 2017 study in the journal, Science Advances, seventy-nine percent of the plastic waste produced worldwide is improperly discarded. As a result, it ends up in landfills and in waterways. No spokesperson for The London Marathon has officially declared the event shares Skipping Ricks Lab’s commitment to “mak[ing] plastic disappear” but an environmentally sustainable approach to hosting a popular event might make plastic seem unnecessary. Even if runners effectively litter by dropping the ooho pods on the ground as they run, the pods will biodegrade within six months. By contrast, a plastic bottle takes at least four hundred fifty years to decompose.

Representatives for both Skipping Rocks Lab and the London Marathon agree that environmental sustainability should be a core value in any contemporary marketing strategy. Hugh Brasher, the event director for the London Marathon, told CNN Business, “The changes and the trials we’re introducing […may] change how mass participation events are delivered.”