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Sustainable Packaging

How Circular Are You Right Now?

Recent exposés by National Geographic, The New York Times, and NPR discovered a sobering fact: of the 8.3 billion tons of plastic produced since the 1950s, only 9 percent has been recycled and 12 percent incinerated, leaving 6.3 billion tons as waste in landfills, or worse, in our waterways.

In other words, we can’t be sure that problem plastics intended to be recycled will actually ever be recycled, and as the e-commerce explosion brings more packaging into shoppers’ homes, a recent McKinsey study on U.S. consumers found that 60-70 percent said they would pay more for sustainable packaging, 52 percent said they would buy more products with sustainable packaging, and 35 percent of respondents would buy additional sustainably packaged products if they were more available.

It’s clear that the time is now to embrace the shift to a circular economy and acknowledge that fiber-based packaging is the solution.

Why fiber?

Fiber-based packaging made from paper is renewable by nature. With its inherent recyclability and biodegradability, it reduces waste to landfills and stops the pollution of our water systems.

DS Smith’s business model is circular, beginning with a commitment to lead the way in forest conservation to preserve our source of renewable fibers. Industry-wide, two seedlings are planted for every tree harvested, adding up to 1 billion trees planted in the United States each year.

Once those fibers enter the recycling stream, they can be reused 7-10 times and be made into more packaging products in as little as 14 days.

Switching from fossil-fuel based materials to fiber-based is not only good for the environment, but it’s good for business. For example, DS Smith revolutionized the wholesale protein market with the development of Greencoat®, our 100 percent recyclable, wax alternative coating that has enabled over 530,000 tons of corrugated to be recycled instead of landfilled and reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 1.7 million metric tons over an 8-year period. Our Greencoat customers are proving they can meet the demands of their customers and consumers, while reaching their sustainability goals.

Design matters

Research confirms that 80 percent of the environmental impact of a product is determined during the design stage, and so in partnership with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, in 2020 we launched Circular Design Principles to focus on designing out waste and trained our 700 designers to optimize package design using these principles. In 2021, in an industry first, we unveiled Circular Design Metrics, making it possible to see and compare the performance of package design across eight indicators, including recyclability, renewable content, and supply chain optimization. A clear assessment of circular performance can be made, and improvement opportunities quickly identified. 

As part of our sustainability strategy to take 1 billion pieces of problem plastics off supermarket shelves by 2025, we’re continuing to innovate. We recently developed GreenToteTM, the first 100 percent recyclable and reusable alternative to plastic bags for grocery pickup or delivery, and ECO Bowl, a more sustainable alternative to plastic packaging for frozen, chilled, and ambient food. 

We’ve also partnered with Touchguard® to develop a new range of bacteria and virus-resistant sustainable cardboard packaging, and with TemperPack® to develop fully recyclable thermal insulation made from plant-based components and paper, alleviating the need to use unrecyclable Styrofoam for insulation.

Brands and retailers can become more circular by choosing renewable fiber-based packaging and by encouraging consumers to recycle their cardboard packaging, enabling those fibers to be reused. 

Simply put, it’s time to let DS Smith be your gateway to a circular economy and give consumers what they want: truly sustainable, renewable or reusable packaging. 

To learn more about circular-ready packaging, visit

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