DS Smith


To accelerate the company’s circular economy drive and support innovation across the business, including recycling and carbon-efficiency in e-commerce.

DS Smith is Europe’s largest cardboard and paper recycler and the leading provider of sustainable packaging. It operates in 17 countries to manage over 5 million tonnes of recyclable materials each year and ensure they are not lost from the system.

The goal of DS Smith’s Strategic Partnership with the Foundation is to support innovation in its business model, to include projects on packaging design for a circular economy, and improve collection systems in urban areas. These pilots will build on the company’s efforts to recycle throw-away consumable items such as coffee cups and radically reduce the amount of fibre in its cardboard packaging.

Focus Areas

DS Smith is working closely with the Foundation across the following focus areas:

  • manufacturing 100% reusable or recyclable packaging by 2025
  • developing circular economy packaging designs
  • improving collection systems in urban areas
  • reducing the amount of fibre in its cardboard packaging


Read our interview with Miles Roberts, Group Chief Executive at DS Smith, one year on from partnering with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation

1. DS Smith is committed to accelerating the transition to a circular economy as part of its sustainability strategy and targets, including manufacturing 100% reusable or recyclable packaging. What made you realise the circular economy was the way forward?

Sustainability and circularity is at the heart of everything we do. When I first joined DS Smith, we could see the importance and growing awareness of sustainability, alongside the potential benefit it could bring to the business. This is why we made it a central pillar of our strategy and we’ve significantly evolved the structure of our business to allow us to focus on this – from expanding our recycling operations to completing the sale of our Plastics Division earlier this year. We are now focused on sustainable, fibre-based packaging solutions.

Fibre is the original renewable resource for packaging, and it’s more relevant than ever. Today, we’re Europe’s largest recycler of paper and cardboard, managing more materials than we put back on the market. We take a significant amount of the paper for recycling and use it within our leading ‘box-to-box’ in 14 day process, which can see fibre reused up to 25 times. With the help of legislators and industry, the reuse of fibre has grown with recycling rates now standing at 85.8% across Europe.

2. DS Smith developed, in collaboration with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, Circular Design Principles to help support companies design reuse and recyclability into their packaging. How does DS Smith intend to apply these principles with their customers?

Our Circular Design Principles are the culmination of work across our business to develop and institute a series of fundamental guidelines when it comes to designing sustainable packaging solutions. Our 700-strong design team is therefore able to provide the best consultancy to our customers, working with them at our Impact and PackRight Centres to develop personalised solutions which respond to their needs in the most efficient and sustainable way possible.

By sharing our Circular Design Principles with our customers and key stakeholders – who are already well-versed in the sustainable products that we provide – they’ll also be better educated on how they too can implement them within their own processes.

3. The packaging system is going through a fundamental rethink. Adopting a circular business model allows for the reuse and reprocessing of materials at a pace that keeps up with their production. Can you elaborate on how the packaging industry is adapting to the circular economy? And what role does DS Smith play in this transition?

We believe that most consumers appreciate the role that packaging plays in society – it protects products and keeps food fresher for longer. And most brand owners and retailers appreciate the value that packaging brings in terms of building brands and communicating to consumers, especially given the decline in the efficacy of advertising and the growth of e-commerce. What we must do is ensure our packaging is designed for the circular economy; sustainably sourced, using no more material than necessary, recyclable and recycled in practice.

Fibre-based packaging is the most recycled material in Europe, with a recycling rate of 85.8%. There is an established infrastructure, a mature market for recycled content and very high consumer awareness that fibre-based packaging can be recycled. To that end, we’re in a great, circular position. Meanwhile, we are working closely with customers across e-commerce, apparel and the industrial sector to respond to trend towards reusable packaging particularly in relation to materials with lower recycling rates.

At DS Smith, we’ve also been actively working to reduce plastic packaging by innovating in sectors where sustainable fibre-based packaging can make a big difference for retailers, thereby reducing plastic use. Our designers across Europe have already developed over 650 designs focused specifically on plastic replacement and available to our customers.

We believe the industry is well placed to lead the way in the transition to a circular economy and having already embedded this model into our business, we will continue to focus our efforts on this critical area.

4. DS Smith has completed a Circulytics assessment to measure the circularity of the business. How useful was this process and what have you learnt from the results? How has it helped you identify opportunities to move more quickly from a linear to a circular model?

As one of the pilot partners, we found Circulytics encouraged us to take a considered look at the whole business and how we are enabling and driving circularity across different functions, which in turn provided the business with the right intelligence to inform our strategy.

Measuring a company’s preparedness and successes in transitioning to a more circular economy is key to moving the wider economy forward. As our assessment noted, we have made significant investments into systems, processes and infrastructure which are suited to a circular way of doing business.

We know there is still more to do and one of our biggest challenges is putting in place tracking to increase transparency of where products end up at the end of use, as well as being able to engage the right organisations to ensure cycling of DS Smith's products is increased. However, we are also excited to embed training and development, such as EMF Masterclasses, across the business to engage everyone at DS Smith in the circular economy.

5. What are the challenges you faced adopting a circular economy business model and how did you overcome these?

As a business, we’ve grown significantly over the past decade through both acquisition and organic growth and one of our key challenges was ensuring that each new acquisition was aligned and engaged in delivering not only our sustainability strategy, but also our circular economy commitments. We believe that engaging our workforce and the wider communities in which we operate presents a big opportunity to continue to embed a transition to the circular economy.

We’ve also faced broader sustainability challenges similar to other industrial companies, specifically around potential changes in water availability and of course continuing to reduce carbon emissions. We have various projects underway to mitigate our exposure to carbon emissions risk and we’ve reduced emissions relative to production by more than 30% since 2011.

We are ambitious in terms of our Sustainability Strategy goals and continue to review our approach on a regular basis to ensure we are pushing our business to achieve more. That’s why we will be launching a new strategy in the coming months – one which not only prepares us for short-term challenges, but allows us to lead for the next generation.

6. As the chief executive of a company committed to accelerating the transition to a circular economy, what inspires you? What are your ambitions to do things differently?

I am inspired by our people, customers and the communities within which we operate all of whom are proactively seeking to address the challenges we face every day, whether it’s recycling in their homes or working with us to develop innovative new packaging for their products.

As a society, we have a big challenge in transitioning towards the circular economy, but it doesn’t have to be difficult or expensive. In fact, even as we’ve transformed as a business, we’ve been able to continue growing and supporting our employees and communities across the world. We will continue to embed our purpose of ‘Redefining Packaging for a Changing World’ into everything we do.

Fibre is the original renewable resource for packaging, and it’s more relevant than ever. Today, we’re Europe’s largest recycler of paper and cardboard, managing more materials than we put back on the market. We take a significant amount of the paper for recycling and use it within our leading ‘box-to-box’ in 14 day process, which can see fibre reused up to 25 times. With the help of legislators and industry, the reuse of fibre has grown with recycling rates now standing at 85.8% across Europe.

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