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DS Smith and Wakefield Biochar announce ash recycling partnership

UK-headed pulp and paper major DS Smith Plc has announced plans to divert tonnes of paper-making byproduct from landfills in the United States (US) to improve the soil for farmers, agriculture markets. DS Smith’s Riceboro paper mill in Georgia (GA) has teamed up with soil enhancements producer Wakefield Biochar to turn wood ash from the paper mill into enhanced, sustainable soil inputs for soil conditioning and remediation.

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DS Smith’s Riceboro paper mill in Georgia (GA) has teamed up with soil enhancements producer Wakefield Biochar to turn wood ash from the paper mill into enhanced, sustainable soil inputs for soil conditioning and remediation (image courtesy DS Smith).

With the paper industry seeing record demand for packaging products because of the pandemic-fueled increase in e-commerce and shipping, paper mills are producing more wood ash, also called biochar, a high-carbon and mineral-rich by-product of the papermaking process.

The wood fibers used in the paper-making process are renewable by nature, and our sustainability strategy demands that we carefully manage our forests and ensure that little fiber is wasted in our production process. Working with Wakefield to convert our excess wood ash for growers as a way of rejuvenating their soil is an ideal solution for DS Smith, because the raw materials harvested from our forests are recycled back to the land in a circular model, said Giancarlo Maroto, Managing Director, paper, forestry and recycling, North America, DS Smith.

Wood ash is a byproduct of the thermal process that powers a paper mill. When converted to nutrient-rich biochar by Wakefield, it will contain many elements that trees need for growth, such as calcium, potassium, magnesium, and iron.

Since most of these elements are extracted from the soil and atmosphere during a tree’s growth, they are common in the environment and essential in the production of crops and forests.

Addressing constraints

According to Wakefield, about 3 million tonnes of wood ash are produced annually in the United States. While about 80 percent of all material is applied to land in the Northeast, less than 10 percent is applied in the Southeast, with the majority being used as landfill cover.

The major constraints to mass distribution and application of biochar to farmers are transportation costs, fertilizer analysis, and logistics. Paper mills are producing wood waste at high volumes and seeing ever-increasing disposal costs, so with our partnership, we will handle the testing, licensing, transportation, and sale of the biochar once it leaves their facility. Wakefield Biochar is here to provide sustainable and environmentally impactful alternatives for DS Smith’s wood ash, said Tom Marrero, President, Wakefield Biochar.

Over a short period of time, DS Smith has diverted more than 150 tonnes of wood ash to Wakefield Biochar, and hundreds more tonnes are expected to be diverted in 2021. The average farmer will spread about 2 tonnes of biochar per acre to boost soil health.

Wakefield’s proprietary process involves transporting the wood ash to a central facility nearby where it’s analyzed and augmented with additional nutrients as needed and converted into its “Better Soil. Better World” line of biochar products.

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