Packaging manufacturer DS Smith is investigating seaweed fibre as an alternative to wood in paper and packaging production.
After initial testing, the company also is researching seaweed’s potential role as a barrier coating, replacing problematic plastics and petroleum-based packaging used to protect many foodstuffs.
The company is talking to several biotechnology companies to explore the potential use of eco-friendly seaweed fibers in a range of packaging products, such as cartons, paper wraps and cardboard trays.
“Our research into alternative raw material and fibre sources will help us drive this project forward, looking at seaweed’s strength, resilience, recyclable properties, scalability and cost,” said Giancarlo Maroto, managing director, paper, forestry and recycling for DS Smith North America.
“Seaweed could have multiple uses with a low ecological footprint that is easily recyclable and naturally biodegradable.”
Maroto also said the production process with seaweed could be less energy intensive, with fewer chemicals used to extract the fibres, creating the next generation of sustainable paper and packaging solutions.
The seaweed project is part of DS Smith’s more than US$140 million, five-year circular economy research and development program announced earlier this year. The work is designed in part to boost research into alternative fibres and to reduce and eliminate waste.
It’s also looking at potential uses of natural fibres, such as straw, hemp, miscanthus and cotton. More unusual sources, including the daisy-flowered cup plant and agricultural waste like cocoa shells or bagasse – the pulp fiber left over after sugarcane is processed, are also being investigated.
Seaweed market blooming
Given its wide range of uses, seaweed in manufacturing is a burgeoning market. The European seaweed industry alone is predicted to be worth almost $11 billion by 2030, generating 115,000 jobs.
Seaweed generally is available from commercial seaweed suppliers and farmers, and scientists have explored the uses of multiple types of green, brown and red seaweed. DS Smith said its research will help decide which species has the best qualities for its processes.
By 2023, DS Smith will manufacture 100% reusable or recyclable packaging and its aim is that by then, all of its packaging will be recycled or reused.