What are some packaging options?
Just because the push for environmentally friendly packaging is relatively new to the agriculture industry, that doesn’t mean growers don’t have a number of options from which to choose.
“There are many solutions for environmentally friendly packaging with lots of applications, and each has its own attributes. Grower needs — strength, clarity, expense, where and how the product is being shipped, etc. — will determine the best fit,” Stanton says.
Malec agrees, saying that growers should look at the entire life cycle of a product, from source to transportation, before assessing all the possible avenues.
Environmentally friendly innovations have included making packaging out of such renewable resources as wood fiber, corn or potatoes; reducing or replacing petroleum-based polymers; and increasing recycled content in materials.
“Sourcing of [paper-based] materials is also an important part of the equation, to ensure use of virgin fiber that comes from well managed forests,” says Jason Metnick, director of market access and product labeling for the Sustainable Forestry Initiative, Arlington, Va.
One option is earth-friendly containerboard. Growers can opt for wax-free corrugated paper that is fully recyclable, such as that offered by Memphis, Tenn.-based International Paper Co., says Emily Davis, manager of sustainability for the company’s packaging group. This product gives retailers a 90 percent recycling rate, she says, so growers would have a more competitive package to offer.
“We also minimize the use of produce packaging because the product is interlocking and stable. It allows the maximum volume of produce to be transported. Such packaging can also be used at the retail level, so no secondary packaging is needed,” Davis says. She adds that the packaging reduces produce spoilage and shrink because it cushions the product. It also is reusable for local farmers markets.
Davis says International Paper plans to continue to analyze the end of a package’s life cycle with constant evaluation of how to improve reusability and composting options, including improvements on innovative coatings and the current potential to burn containerboard as fuel stock. “Our goal will be zero waste in corrugated products and to provide completely renewable, recyclable and compostable material,” she says.