Reusable plastic containers experiencing double-digit growth

Last week in Chicago at Pack Expo 2016, Hillary Femal, Global Vice President of Marketing for IFCO (Tampa, FL), a global provider of reusable packaging solutions for fresh products and a Brambles Group company, told a group of fresh food supply chain executives that the continued double-digit growth in the use of reusable plastic containers (RPCs) has been made possible because RPCs are more efficient, cost-effective, food safe and more sustainable than single-use packaging.

PlasticsToday caught up with Femal to talk about the economic, food safety and environmental benefits driving RPC growth for fresh food packaging.

PT: What are some economic and environmental benefits of RPCs?

Femal: IFCO RPCs are more efficient, cost effective, sustainable and protect and cool fresh food more quickly than one-way packaging, including cardboard boxes.  A 2015 study by IFCO and researchers at California Polytechnic State University showed:

  • RPCs are efficient: At distribution centers, RPCs are processed between 9% and 226% faster than one-way packaging. RPCs are more efficient when it comes to slotting, order picking, stretch wrapping and loading than one-way packaging.
  • RPCs are store-friendly: At retail locations, RPCs are more efficient by 5% to 53% over one-way packaging in stocking, order picking, transport to shelf and folding, stacking and baling.RPCs are more space efficient, both packed and empty, helping better utilize limited space in the back room and on carts.
  • RPCs are easy to handle: During disposal and sorting activities, RPCs are more efficient by 16% for unloading and 154% more efficient for sorting and securing.Folded RPCs were easier to handle than one-way packaging that frequently broke and required re-strapping after use.
  • RPCs are effective: RPC use results showed less than 0.5% packaging damage rate, while one-way packaging was over 4% damage rate due to structural integrity limitations and/or improper stacking.

IFCO’s recent study, Comparative Life Cycle Assessment of Reusable Plastic Containers and Display- and Non-Display-Ready Corrugated Containers Used for Fresh Produce Applications, showed the environmental benefits of RPCs over cardboard boxes for use in packaging, transporting, storing and displaying fresh produce. The study concludes that, for the same produce shipments, RPCs:

  • Produce 85% less solid waste
  • Consume 65% less water
  • Require 34% less energy
  • Contribute significantly less environmental pollution (72% lower eutrophication, 51% lower ozone depletion and 48% lower acidification)

Additional research that reviewed two million RPCs used to transport fresh produce, showed RPCs:

  • Removed 74 cars from the road
  • Saved enough energy to power 822 US homes
  • Saved 22 million gallons of water
  • Eliminated the solid waste from 54 homes
  • Avoided 9.5 tons of food waste

PT: Why do you predict RPCs to gain market share over one-way packaging?

Femal: More and more retailers and growers are choosing RPCs because of their economic and environmental benefits. Their shared and reusable business model contributes to the global vision of a circular economy that produces zero waste and zero emissions. In addition, a recent study showed consumers prefer RPCs over corrugated cardboard packaging for fresh produce by a margin of 25% to 55%.

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