WakefieldBiochar, a Columbia, Missouri-based producer of soil for agricultural applications, and DS Smith, a London-based packaging manufacturer, announced on Jan. 25 that the companies are partnering to repurpose waste from DS Smith’s Riceboro, Georgia, paper mill into sustainable soil inputs for soil conditioning and remediation.
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, or biochar, a high-carbon and mineral-rich byproduct that can be used to improve soil health.
“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,” says Giancarlo Maroto, managing director of paper, forestry and recycling in North America for DS Smith. “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.”
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 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 production of crops and forests.
About 3 million tons of wood ash are produced annually in the U.S. While about 80 percent of all material is applied to land in the Northeast, around 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,” Wakefield Biochar President Tom Marrero says. “Paper mills are producing wood waste at high volumes and seeing ever-increasing disposal costs. 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.”
Over a short period, DS Smith has diverted more than 150 tons of wood ash to Wakefield Biochar, and hundreds more tons are expected to be diverted in 2021. The average farmer will spread about 2 tons of biochar per acre to boost soil health, the companies say.
Wakefield’s 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.