Global packaging company DS Smith is investigating using seaweed as an alternative fibre source to the wood fibre they currently use across their packaging network.
Following initial testing, DS Smith are exploring the potential seaweed has for acting as a barrier coating to replace petroleum-based packaging used to protect foodstuffs. They are working with a number of biotechnology companies, exploring how to use seaweed fibres in products such as cartons, paper wraps and cardboard trays.
In an industry first, the move could see seaweed used across their packaging network as an alternative fibre source to wood. Following initial testing, DS Smith are exploring the potential of seaweed to play a significant role in the purge on plastics by acting as a barrier coating to replace petroleum-based packaging used to protect many foodstuffs.
The company is talking to a number of biotechnology companies, to explore the use of seaweed fibres in a range of packaging products such as cartons, paper wraps and cardboard trays.
Thomas Ferge, DS Smith paper and board development director,said: “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. 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.”
Alternative packaging initiative around the world are diversifying
Given its wide range of uses, seaweed in manufacturing is a burgeoning market. The European seaweed industry alone is predicted to be worth almost £8 billion by 2030, according to a 2020 report, Seaweed for Europe: Hidden champion of the ocean.
DS Smith’s seaweed project is part of their circular economy programme. They are looking at all manner of natural fibres, including other innovative natural materials such as straw, hemp, miscanthus and cotton and more unusual sources such as the daisy-flowered up plant and agricultural waste like cocoa shells or bagasse (the pulp fibre left over after sugarcane is packaged).
The company wants to manufacture 100% reusable or recyclable packaging so all its products will be net-zero by 2030.
In South Africa, seaweed is harvested for export for the extraction of gums (colloidal chemicals that are used in many industries). Large quantities of fresh kelp is also being used as feed for farmed abalone and for creating plant-growth stimulants.
The SA Plastics Pact was launched at the beginning of 2020, developed by the World Wide Fund for Nature in partnership with the South African Plastics Recycling Organisation and the UK’s Wrap. It has been developed for the South African context and is managed and delivered by GreenCape. Founding members have committed to a series of ambitions targets by 2050 to prevent plastics from becoming waste or pollution.
In order to reach the 2025 targets for a circular economy for plastics in South Africa various activities are being explored such as designing out problematic plastic packing and introducing reuse models and setting up sufficient infrastructure to allow for compostables.