DS Smith ramps up research into alternative fibres

DS Smith: exploring potential uses for different fibres
DS Smith: exploring potential uses for different fibres

DS Smith is claiming an industry first in trialling seaweed-based raw materials as an alternative to plastics, as part of the packaging giant’s major investment in circular economy products.

The £7.2bn turnover group is ramping up its exploration of alternative fibres as part of its £100m R&D & Innovation Plan spend.

The trials using seaweed explore how its waterproof qualities could be used as a raw material “to design out problem plastics from carton, paper wrap and cardboard tray packaging”. 

DS Smith has teamed up with a number of research partners including the Research Institute of Sweden to look at how novel materials, including seaweed and straw, could potentially be used in place of traditional wood pulp.

DS Smith is exploring the use of seaweed fibres in a range of packaging products including cartons, paper wraps and cardboard trays.

It said that if successful, seaweed-based materials could potentially be used as a barrier coating to replace the petroleum-based packaging currently used to protect many foodstuffs.

Other materials that are being trialled as part of the project include daisies, straw, hemp and cocoa shells.

DS Smith paper and board development director Thomas Ferge commented: “With the strain on the planet more evident than ever, our research has the potential to lessen pressure on forests and protect the planet’s natural resources.

“As well as looking at how we optimise the standard recycled paper fibres that we already use, we’re very excited by the prospect of how other resources such as miscanthus, hemp, agricultural wastes and seaweed could be used in the next generation of packaging solutions.”

Through its Now & Next sustainability strategy DS Smith aims to optimise fibre use in all of its new packaging solutions by 2025, while by 2030 its goal is to achieve the same thing for its entire supply chain.

The potential for seaweed as an alternative biomass material, and for use as food, is gaining traction as it is possible to farm it without using fertilisers.

DS Smith cited research from the Seaweed for Europe coalition that predicts the European seaweed industry will be worth almost £8bn by 2030, and will generate some 115,000 jobs. 

The group opened a new Fibre and Paper Development lab at its Kemsley Paper Mill near Sittingbourne earlier this year, which involved a £750,000 spend.