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Independent study shows multiple reuse of containers reduces environmental burdens

multiple use of containers reduces environmental burdens

March 17, 2008  By Fruit & Vegetable

An in-depth, year-long independent
study has determined that multiple reuse of containers significantly
reduces environmental burdens compared to single-trip containers for
those applications analyzed within the scope of the study.

An in-depth, year-long independent study has determined that multiple reuse of containers significantly reduces environmental burdens compared to single-trip containers for those applications analyzed within the scope of the study.

The Reusable Pallet & Container Coalition (RPCC) commissioned the independent firm of Franklin Associates to undertake the study in which 10 produce shipping scenarios were studied and analyzed over a 12-month period. On average, the results of all 10 applications studied showed that reusable plastic containers (RPCs) require 39 per cent less total energy, produce 95 per cent less total solid waste and generate 29 per cent less total greenhouse gas emissions compared to display-ready common footprint corrugated boxes (DRCs) for corresponding produce applications.


The transport of produce is the most challenging scenario because it requires added energy for refrigeration and large amounts of fuel because produce is generally shipped long distances to its destination. Also, RPCs require backhauling, or return to origin. Even with these harsh parameters, the use of RPCs in the study resulted in lower environmental burdens.

“Environmental issues have increasingly come to the forefront of U.S. businesses, governmental organizations, and local, state, and federal legislatures, so we are extremely pleased with the results of the Franklin Study,” said RPCC president David Russell, also president of IFCO Systems. “Given that produce applications present the most challenging conditions for favourable outcomes, these results bode well for other applications in which reusable transport packaging is a current or potential packaging option.”

The dominant findings in the study, entitled “Life Cycle Inventory (LCI) of Reusable Plastic Containers and Display-Ready Corrugated Containers Used for Fresh Produce Applications,” is that multiple trips (“turns”) in an RPC closed-loop lead to materials efficiencies that create relatively low environmental burdens. In the DRC system, a container is manufactured for each trip to retail. Even when recovery and recycling rates for DRCs are high, the production step (including recycling) introduces a higher level of burdens, according to the study. In the case of RPCs and DRCs, multiple reuse of RPCs results in lower environmental burdens than single-trip DRC containers.

“For the applications studied, the quantitative, irrefutable
conclusion is that container reuse with closed-loop recycling at end of life is more efficient in reducing not only solid waste but
also energy use and greenhouse gas emissions compared to the lighter-weight containers that are recycled after one trip,” said Russell.

The purpose of the study was to evaluate the energy, solid wastes, and atmospheric and waterborne emissions associated with RPCs and DRCs used for shipping fresh produce. Ten different produce applications were modeled individually for shipping in RPCs and in DRCs. The 10 produce applications were apples, bell peppers, carrots, grapes, lettuce-head, oranges, peaches/nectarines, onions, tomatoes, and strawberries. The functional unit was 1,000 short tons or two million pounds of each type of produce hauled between grower and retailer.

The just-completed study examined the entire life cycle of each system, including extraction of raw materials from the earth,
materials and container manufacture, outgoing transportation of containers, backhauling and washing of empty RPCs, recycling of DRCs and RPCs, and end-of-life disposition.

“With the results of the LCI study, we can give policymakers and potential end-users objective, valuable data so that they can make the most informed decision possible regarding their
packaging options and the benefits of reusables,” noted RPCC executive director Jeanie Johnson. “RPCC will continue to provide more studies, more data, and more industry information in a
credible, objective manner.”

RPCC launches trial of RFID technology, reusable transport packaging

The Reusable Pallet & Container Coalition (RPCC) recently launched a study examining the economic benefits and enhanced supply chain visibility that can be achieved through RFID technology and multi-use tags in reusable transport packaging.

The study is being driven by retailers, consumer packaged goods companies and governmental agencies who need to track items as they move through the supply chain. By enhancing the tracking of location, condition, and status of assets, it’s hoped companies will be able to streamline their supply chain processes, increase asset utilization, and reduce waste while addressing security concerns. Although the momentum is growing among supply chain participants to use the technology, RFID is very costly for one-way packaging. It is anticipated that multi-use tags with reusable packaging will deliver a significant economic return.

“We believe that reusable transport packaging, unlike one-way packaging, will be the enabler for the successful integration of RFID technology within the supply chain,” says David Rodgers, RPCC president and senior VP with ORBIS Container Services. “We are confident that our research and multi-phase approach will demonstrate that the use of RFID technology on reusable transport packaging will deliver a positive return on investment (ROI).”

In the first phase of the project, RPCC will work with the RFID Research and Development Laboratory at the California Polytechnic State University at San Luis Obispo, California. Researchers will test the durability of EPC-compliant, Gen 2 RFID tags to determine whether the tags will survive a longer use cycle. In the second phase, the RPCC plans to develop an economic model for integrating RFID tags with reusable transport packaging. Quality Logistics Management (QLM) will oversee the study, collect and analyze the data, and present an industry paper with the results.

Upon successful completion of the first two phases, RPCC hopes to conduct field tests involving approximately 1,500 RFID-enabled returnable containers using a producer/shipper of perishable goods, a major retailer, and other key players in the supply chain.

“Reusable transport packaging has proven time and again to reduce costs and deliver efficiencies throughout the supply chain,” says Rodgers. “When this field study is completed, the business case for the use of reusable transport packaging will be further confirmed.”

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