A recent study indicates that the reusable plastic container (RPC) outperforms the display-ready corrugated (DRC) box in terms of environmental impact when it comes to shipping fresh produce.
Over the course of a lifetime — from point of production through use to disposal — the RPC uses less energy, results in less solid waste, and causes fewer atmospheric and waterborne emissions than does the single-use DRC, according to a US-study sponsored by the Reusable Pallet & Container Coalition (RPCC) based in Washington, DC.
Since produce provides the harshest test for reusable containers, says the RPCC, and the study’s findings bode well for other applications too. Key findings of the study, which was performed in 2003-2004 by Franklin Associates of Prairie Village, Kansas, show that across 10 produce applications, the RPC on average:
* Requires 39 per cent less total energy than does the DRC;
* Produces 95 per cent less total solid waste for disposal; and
* Generates 29 per cent less total greenhouse gas emissions.
The 10 produce applications in the study include apples, grapes, strawberries and certain vegetables. Applications involving 1,000 tons (910 tonnes) of each produce item were modeled individually for shipping in RPCs and in DRCs having the same footprint. Each item was surveyed in terms of its own container. In the case of tomatoes, for example, an RPC of 3.9 lb (1.8 kg) tare weight was matched against a DRC of 1.5 lb (0.7 kg) tare weight.
“One factor dominates the findings in this study,” says RPCC, in a recently published fact sheet. “Multiple trips in an RPC closed-operating system lead to materials efficiencies that create relatively low environmental burdens.”
The statement holds true, says the group, even though RPCs weigh more than corresponding DRCs, are subject to backhauls to depots for inspection and cleaning prior to reissue, and require a “float” to assure a steady supply. Even when recovery and recycling rates for DRCs are high, the group says, RPCs still win by a wide margin.
“The study has created an important baseline of objective findings for the reusable transport packaging industry,” RPCC says. “Results indicate, on a more global scale, that the central issue is not just about produce or about materials (in terms of) plastic vs. corrugated. It’s about the environmental value and benefits of reusables as a packaging system as opposed to single-trip transport packaging.”
The results show the superiority of reusable containers even before calculations for the investment on a cost-per-trip basis. If one factors in the economics of using and reusing plastic containers, trip after trip, compared with one-way corrugated, one sees that a heavier investment upfront leads to financial savings down the road in addition to all the important environmental benefits.
More details of the RPCC study complete with charts may be obtained by visiting the websitewww.rpcc.us
Jim Morrison is vice president and general manager with Buckhorn Canada Inc. in Brampton Ontario. Email Jim at email@example.com