All products will be 100 percent biodegradable and are expected to compete with petrochemical products in performance and cost, he says.
“While the price per pound of film or packaging might initially be more than petroleum-based products, it will make economic sense to the grower,” Igoe says. “In reality, once the costs involved in the end of life scenario of petroleum-based products, such as waste disposal and labor, are taken into consideration, there will actually be a cost savings for the grower.”
Manufacturers also have been reducing packaging costs and waste by providing reusable plastic containers to replace single-use containers for use in the fruit and vegetable sector. Reusable transport packaging — totes, boxes, bins and pallets — is designed for multiple trips and for many years of use. MacGrory says that IPL estimates current RPC use in the United States at about 30 million containers.
“These products enable growers not to have to source single use packaging for every package of produce,” MacGrory says.
Current designs are collapsible, stackable, nestable, and space-saving. RPCs provide growers the benefits of less product shrink, reduced time needed to pre-cool their produce, and the ability to mix pallets, he says, adding that they can save time and labor because vegetables can be harvested and placed directly into the containers.
Energy-efficient long-distance transport of produce is particularly challenging because of the refrigeration and large amounts of fuel required. In response, manufactures look for ways to improve reusable transport packaging and pallet pooling. MacGrory says that IPL’s next step will be to further reduce weight in its products, ensuring that every ounce of plastic used really needs to be there, while maintaining structural integrity, strength, and durability. The company also plans to continue to work with the Reusable Plastic Pallet and Container Coalition to find ways to further reduce greenhouse gas emissions, he says.
Will cost be an inhibitor?
While manufacturers of earth-friendly packaging continue to seek innovative products, they clearly recognize the importance of costs to growers. “Sustainability and economics need to merge together,” MacGrory says.
Mark Ritenour, associate professor of post-harvest technology at the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Indian River Research and Education Center in Fort Pierce, also emphasizes the importance of a reasonable bottom-line cost for environmentally-friendly packaging.