Innovation in Barrier Technology

Over half (51%) of global retail sales are done online, and this e-commerce growth shows no signs of slowing down.

At the same time, retailers and brands are under increasing pressure to meet consumer sustainability expectations.

The combination of these two trends is putting pressure on supply chains and the production of packaging in which these goods are transported. Therefore, packaging must be carefully considered. This increases the efficiency of the supply chain and reduces the environmental impact of the packaging and product. Packaging designed with expertise and purpose in mind can help reduce waste in several ways, including damage prevention and item returns. In addition, reducing the volume of packaging used is beneficial for both brand reputation and the environment.

Keep materials circulating

Fiber-based packaging has the highest recycling rate of any packaging and is therefore an ideal choice for brands looking to make their supply chains greener. At DS Smith, our box-to-box circular business model allows us to recycle cardboard and use its fibers to produce new packaging in as little as two weeks. In addition, we can recycle fibers up to 25 times, ensuring a longer circulation of materials.

Of course, other materials have alternative properties, such as the ability to keep food fresh for a long shelf life and act as a liquid barrier. It’s important for us to harness these benefits of carton packaging and ensure our boxes are as strong as possible to reduce the amount of hard-to-recycle plastic and prevent more plastic trash from ending up in the ocean. As part of the recent global initiative to reduce plastic pollution in the oceans, we must, more than ever, strive to eliminate hard-to-recycle plastics.

Adding Fiber to Strengthen Foods

Development and technological innovation in barrier processing are playing a key role in efforts to replace hard-to-recycle plastics with fiber-based packaging. Innovations in surface treatment, coating formulations and application technologies are essential to the development of recyclable corrugated boxes, helping to reduce the use of plastic. This includes adding fibers to make products more durable and waterproof to mimic the properties of plastic packaging.

Find the right solution

It is critical to protect e-commerce products in transit, from their packaging in the supply chain to the point of delivery to the customer. But not all travel is the same. It is very important to apply the correct barrier to each drawer in order to optimize it in terms of performance and durability. How the processing is applied, how effective it is, factors such as how easy the cardboard is to fold into the box: designers must consider all of these.

Throughout the supply chain, boxes can be exposed to various contaminants such as water, moisture and grease. All of these can damage the packaging and its contents if they are not properly protected.

The problem lies in the choice of material for the application of these barrier treatments. DS Smith uses the experience and knowledge of its designers to optimize the barrier treatment of packaging for recycling. Where a traditional plastic solution is used, it must be fully recyclable or have properties that allow the plastic to break down during the recycling process. At DS Smith, we limit a conventional plastic barrier to 5% of the material the box is made from, a percentage above which recyclability is reduced.

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Environmentally friendly lamination technology offers opportunities for fiber solutions that can replace difficult-to-recycle plastics in traditional or e-commerce supply chains. A thin layer of plastic can be laminated onto the surface of the fibreboard and we can guarantee that it will be less than 5% of the box. There are also alternatives to non-plastic laminating materials with barrier properties for certain applications.

Current innovations

The DS Smith R&D team has developed an innovative new barrier solution using biodegradable water-soluble polymers to protect boxes on their way to the customer. These polymers can be separated from the recycled fibers during the recycling process. Thus, these plastic alternatives could make up more than 5% of the box if needed, since the consumer is not required to perform a separating process. The use of recyclable plastic alternatives is good for the environment as it means that hard plastics are taken out of circulation and the use of biodegradable fibers results in less pollution during the recycling process.

In other cases, the plastic layer can be completely removed with substitutes such as coatings or varnishes. Various coating formulations are currently being researched as part of DS Smith’s research and development program. These liners are strong enough to protect the box while approaching 100% recyclability in a circular economy.

Long term goals

Looking to the future, our R&D team continues to put sustainability at the heart of our innovation process in line with DS Smith’s current Circular Economy, Sustainability Today and Tomorrow strategy, which is committed to offering 100% recyclable packaging to all customers. over the next two years. As part of our £100m R&D investment, our primary goal is to accelerate research into new materials, including expanding barrier technologies that can be used for e-commerce packaging.

The possibilities offered by barrier processing technologies continue to expand, and fiber-based solutions are challenging the misconception that plastic is the best protection for goods in transit. Not only can these technologies provide adequate protection, but their recyclability also makes them more environmentally friendly.


4mar22 4jpgabout the author

Susana Auseho is a senior research and development manager at DS Smith. She joined DS Smith in 2019 and is a packaging specialist with over 20 years of experience in the industry.

Source: D.S. Smith.