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DS Smith, Private Ingenuity and Community Service during COVID-19

By Mady Johnston, BCTV

May 20, 2020

Image: DS Smith providing lunches to 18th Ward Firefighters. (Photo courtesy of Caroline Curran)

Since the novel coronavirus/COVID-19 hit Pennsylvania, many companies that were deemed “essential” have converted production lines to make health and safety products, such as hand sanitizers, disinfectants and personal protection equipment (PPE). With new products comes new packaging, and DS Smith Reading Packaging, Paper, and Recycling were quick to respond to this need. Now, they serve as an example of how private ingenuity can benefit the local economy and community during this crisis.

DS Smith Reading is considered an essential business for its importance in food and medical supply industries. Some customers who would normally produce cosmetics started producing hand sanitizers and disinfectants, which created an immediate demand for new shipping boxes and packaging.

“We responded very quickly,” David McCracken, Regional General Manager, said. “Within a day, we had a new design created for the new packaging and had boxes delivered to them within a couple of days, so that they could provide hand sanitizer… a lot were shipped to first responders.”

DS Smith is an international packaging company focused on the production of corrugated packaging for consumer and industrial products. Based in London, U.K., the company runs a manufacturing plant out of the Reading Paper Mill (acquired by DS Smith in 2017). They also opened their first U.S.-based recycling plant in the City of Reading in March 2020. The move allowed DS Smith to create a closed-loop system of sustainable packaging production.

The company’s international communications is how DS Smith Reading was able to prepare for the pandemic before it hit the U.S. “We were able to get insight from our facilities in Europe; we knew what was coming before it came,” McCracken said. As a result, the plant was able to stock up on masks and cleaning supplies, and had cleaning and safety protocols prepared for when COVID-19 hit Berks County “We had everything in place, we were ready to go.”

The company is one of many worldwide to mobilize their resources in response to the COVID-19 crisis. However, the local plant is going one step further by showing support for the community’s first responders.

Recently, DS Smith Reading employees provided over 50 lunches to the City of Reading 18th Ward Firefighters. The company is also part of the city’s “Cultivate Community” initiative, which focuses on promoting victory gardens and food security in the City of Reading. They have donated custom biodegradable Greencoat boxes to be used as garden starters and vegetable planters.

According to McCracken, “service” is a core value for DS Smith Reading. “We consider ourselves a vital part of the [local] economy and community… It is our responsibility to provide community service as well. We enjoy doing it, it is part of our culture.”

McCracken went on to praise the work ethic and dedication of DS Smith Reading employees. “Through all this, we have remained open, we continue to provide products, we have kept our employees working so they are not struggling financially, and we have managed to provide community service along the way… The employees have stepped up, and I’m very proud of them for the way they have handled it.”

DS Smith donated custom sustainable boxes to be used as vegetable planters as part of Reading’s “Cultivate Community” initiative. (Photo courtesy of Caroline Curran)

Constructing biodegradable box planter for Reading’s “Cultivate Community” initiative. (Photo courtesy of Caroline Curran)

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