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Packaging supplier sees if seaweed is for real

DS Smith, a packager including for private brands, will test the use of seaweed fiber as part of its $140 million sustainability research commitment.
Zachary Russell
Associate Editor
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Atlanta-based paper and packaging company DS Smith has announced it is exploring a new sustainability initiative that would lead to a cleaner environment. As part of the company’s $140 million circular economy research, DS Smith is exploring the use of seaweed fibers as an alternative source of packaging.

The five-year research and development plan was announced in May with the aim of developing new materials to replace plastics. The company announced Monday that it is talking to several biotechnology companies about the possibility of using seaweed fibers as a raw material in paper and packaging products. Fibers are just one of the many uses of seaweed, which can be used in food products, for biofuels, and for pharmaceuticals and personal care products.

 If implemented, seaweed fibers could be more energy efficient and take less chemicals to extract than wood fibers, the company said, adding that they are researching seaweed’s role as a barrier coating, replacing ‘problem plastics’ and petroleum-based packaging.

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The announcement comes as many companies, including store brands, are racing to transition towards more sustainable and eco-friendly forms of packaging. If successful, seaweed could be the latest material that would serve as a cleaner alternative to more traditional forms of packaging.

“Seaweed could have multiple uses with a low ecological footprint that is easily recyclable and naturally biodegradable,” said Giancarlo Maroto, managing director of paper, forestry and recycling for DS Smith North America.  “As a leader in sustainability, our research into alternative raw material and fiber sources will help us drive this project forward, looking at seaweed’s strength, resilience, recyclable properties, scalability, and cost.”

During last month's Store Brands Industry Forum on Sustainability, the idea of seaweed as a packaging resource was mentioned as growing in interest. That forum is available on demand.

The nautical fibers would be used in a range of packaging products, including cartons, paper wraps, and cardboard trays. DS Smith’s announcement is evidence of the growing market and interest around seaweed fibers as an eco-friendly raw material alternative. The commercial seaweed market was valued at an estimated $40 billion in 2020, and is expected to rise by nearly 10 percent by 2027. Of the three types of seaweed, brown and red seaweed have far higher demand than the green seaweed that is most commonly eaten.

The company says in addition to seaweed, it will explore potential use of other natural fibers including straw, hemp, miscanthus and cotton. By 2023, DS Smith says its goal will be to manufacture 100 percent reusable or recyclable packaging.