In an extension of its ongoing investment into R&D, DS Smith is teaming up with Nafici Environmental Research (NER) to transform ‘second harvest’ materials like straw and grains into packaging materials.

NER has developed a process that converts agricultural waste into paper-making pulp, which is said to offer strengthening properties. DS Smith’s state-of-the-art research and innovation site in Kemsley, UK, seeks to explore the application of pulp made from unwanted products into sustainability-minded packaging designs.

‘Second harvest’ materials like straw and spent grain from brewers can save up to 10% of the virgin fibres used in the papermaking process, according to the research team at DS Smith. As businesses are increasingly interested in pursuing circularity for their supply chains, such materials are expected to be ‘important and viable’ assets in the replacement of standard sources.

DS Smith states that its work with NER is a continuation of its Now & Next strategy. Amongst other targets, it seeks to manufacture 100% recyclable and reusable packaging by 2025; reduce Scope 1, 2, and 3 greenhouse gas emissions by 46% by 2030 compared to 2019/20 levels; and reach net zero emissions by 2050.

Nick Thompson, DS Smith’s materials development director, said: “DS Smith has built a reputation for being at the forefront of innovation in the recycling aspect of its operation, in part demonstrated by the investment into the R&D Fibre & Paper Development Lab (based at Kemsley Mill) and our ongoing partnership with Nafici.

“Businesses are keen to understand how they can adopt more circularity into their supply chains and finding secondary uses for what are currently seen as waste materials are key to that. Our Now & Next Sustainability strategy drives us to be leaders in helping the transition to a circular economy, so working with customers and partners across the supply chain to keep materials in use for as long as possible is an important part of that drive.”

NER co-founder and CEO Florence Miremadi-Nafici added: “Our work with DS Smith is crucial in addressing the sustainability challenges associated with the increased demand for packaging. Through the pilot programme at Kemsley, we hope to prove that alternative fibres, and particularly second harvest materials, can and will play an important role in the future of sustainable packaging.”

Previously, DS Smith trialled a process in which natural materials like straw, hemp, cocoa shells, daisies, and seaweed were turned into paper packaging. This came alongside a collaboration with The Research Institute of Sweden (RISE) to test the potential of seaweed as a sustainable resource.

In similar news, TIPA has converted rice waste into a recyclable tray that can be composted at home. It is designed to serve as an alternative to plastic and paper food packaging in line with upcoming restrictions on takeaway containers.

Craste was also a finalist under the commercialized Renewables category in the Sustainability Awards 2023 – nominated for its ‘100% tree-free’ food-grade, compostable packaging made from millet straw.

If you liked this article, you might also enjoy:

The L’Oréal approach to packaging sustainability

The way we talk about plastic needs to change – here’s how to get it right

What steps is Apple taking to make its packaging more sustainable?

The Danone approach to packaging sustainability