Turning Seaweed Into Greenery

SeaGreen-PaulMelanconThe founders of Sea Green Organics know that many people like a healthy lawn, but are increasingly wary of using chemicals to get there. For a natural alternative, they’ve taken to the sea. The company, based off a project that started during their college years, makes fertilizer out of seaweed. The nontoxic product is sustainable, natural and, they hope, profitable.

“We see substantial growth in our future,” said Paul Melancon, one of two founders. “With marketing now a priority, we’ll have the ability to educate people about our product. We’ve seen a very positive response so far.” Melancon, originally from Trumbull, CT started the company as an undergraduate at the University of Connecticut in Stamford while assigned to a project studying seaweed growth in Long Island Sound.

“I was tasked with seeing how much seaweed I could grow and what to do with it,” Melancon said. He looked at a number of different industrial uses, including pet food, makeup and biofuels. The best answer, it turned out, was in the front yard. “The other ideas didn’t make a whole lot of sense,” he said. “Then I looked at organic fertilizer, and it all started to come together.”

Melancon said he has long been interested in the topic. In addition to working for his family’s business and as a firefighter, he also spent some time employed in the town of Weston’s parks department, keeping a close eye on the maintenance of town fields. “They’d put down (traditional) fertilizer… to the detriment of the environment,” he said. “It didn’t last very long, and within a few months everything would turn brown.”

SeaGreen-QuartThe UConn project turned into a business. With the university’s blessing, Melancon formed Sea Green Organics. The company’s process turns seaweed into fertilizer and can cut water usage by up to 30 percent, Melancon said. “Especially with so much of the country in a drought right now, that could make a huge difference on water bills,” he said.

The company has been entirely self-funded to date. Though the idea started with a study of Long Island Sound, regulatory issues have kept the company from growing the seaweed locally. Instead, it imports from overseas. “I looked into growing a couple of different types in Long Island Sound, but it was cost prohibitive,” Melancon said.

Fertilizer from seaweed represents a small but growing industry, but Melancon said competitors don’t offer what his product can. “We allow you to buy directly from the manufacturer, which is us, and talk directly to us,” he said. “We make ourselves available, and are transparent to the end user. There’s a huge educational aspect that goes into that. People always ask, ‘How does that work?’”

Experts say it works in a number of ways. “Scientists have found in seaweeds a veritable soup of plant-growth stimulants, vitamins … trace minerals, enzymes and amino acids, all of which influence the growth of plants in different ways,” according to the National Gardening Association, a nonprofit based in Vermont.

Sea Green Organics has the capacity to make 600 gallons of fertilizer per day, and is looking to expand on those capabilities. “We are hoping to solve a lot of problems in the environment,” Melancon said. “We can drastically reduce or eliminate traditional fertilizer use.”

[Original interview by Hugh Bailey, Connecticut Post, 2015]