DS Smith exploring plans for seaweed paper and packaging

Packaging company DS Smith has announced plans to experiment with seaweed fibres in the manufacturing of raw material for paper and packaging products.

The move would see the packaging company using the plant matter as an alternative fibre source to wood. After initial testing, DS Smith also plans on exploring the potential for seaweed to act as a barrier coating to protect foodstuffs, which would replace current petroleum-based packaging.

SeaweedThe corporation is currently in talks with a number of biotechnology companies in order to fully explore the potential of seaweed packaging, across a range of products including cartons, paper wraps and cardboard trays. DS Smith points out that seaweed in manufacturing is a ‘burgeoning market’, with the European seaweed industry alone predicted to be valued at approximately £8 billion by 2030.

There are multiple types of green, brown and red seaweed that have been explored to some degree in the scientific community. A spokesperson from DS Smith has said the research it is carrying out will go some way towards deciding which species has the best qualities in terms of cellulose and lignin content and fibre length.

With regards to sourcing seaweed, DS Smith commented that it is generally available from commercial seaweed suppliers and farmers, though that is something that the company would need to factor in depending on the outcome of the investigation.

The project will form part of the company’s £100 million Circular Economy R and D programme, which is currently working with an assortment of different natural fibres. These materials are intended to replace traditional packaging and include: straw; hemp; miscanthus; cotton; the daisy-flowered cup plant; and agricultural waste such as cocoa shells and bagasse - the pulp fibre left over after sugarcane processing.

DS Smith states that the circular economy is at heart of its ‘Now and Next Strategy’, which aims to close the loop through sustainable design, waste reduction and equipping the workforce to lead the transition to a circular economy. The company also states that by 2023, it will aim to have all of its packaging be either recyclable or reusable by 2030.

Thomas Ferge, Paper and Board Development Director at DS Smith, commented: “As a leader in sustainability, our research into alternative raw material and fibre sources has the potential to be a real game changer for our customers and consumers who increasingly want products that are easy to recycle and have a minimal impact on the environment.

“Seaweed is one of the many alternative natural materials we’re closely looking at, and while most people probably associate it with the beach or as an ingredient in sushi, it could have some exciting applications for us to help create the next generation of sustainable paper and packaging solutions.”