Across the produce industry — from growers and distributors to your nearest grocery store and wholesale warehouse — the need to answer consumer demand and meet state regulations to reduce, reuse and recycle is at an inflection point.
Demand for increased recycled content and recyclable materials in fresh produce packaging has increased in the past few years. There is also a growing consumer awareness of the recycling practices of companies involved in produce packaging and production. The corrugated industry is addressing this issue with sustainable produce containers that make the journey directly from the field to in-store displays and, very soon, right into your kitchen.
Fresh produce is a significant part of PCA’s corrugated business. Our Winter Haven, Florida, plant dedicates a large amount of its manufacturing capacity to produce packaging, primarily fresh fruits. Across the country at the Wallula and Richland, Washington, manufacturing facilities, roughly a million corrugated produce boxes are manufactured daily for apples, blueberries, cherries, pears, potatoes, onions and other fruits and vegetables.
“What we’re seeing in the last year or two is a huge focus on sustainable produce packaging,” says PCA Wallula/Richland General Manager Jeff Greene. “It’s the biggest change I have seen in all my years, and it is affecting our business and the environment in a very good way.”
Greene and the Wallula team work with growers, packers and retailers to develop more sustainable produce packaging using corrugated materials. This fall, a major retailer is introducing new corrugated apple containers developed and manufactured by PCA.
Moisture is one of the biggest challenges for corrugated produce packaging, because moisture can cause it to break down. Corrugated produce containers often need to be coated so that they don’t take on moisture at any point during harvest, refrigeration or transport to retail.
Historically, wax coatings have been used for corrugated produce packaging, but wax-coated containers cannot be recycled. To meet our goal of providing sustainable produce packaging, PCA has introduced new coatings to deliver the most recyclable materials available to the produce industry.
According to David Allie of PCA’s Winter Haven plant, “Our waterproof and water-resistant coatings and adhesives also help enhance the box structure. Additionally, we offer a product called PowerPly®, where we use a laminated double layer of material to make the squiggly part of the box. This helps keep the strongest part of the box from breaking down if it gets moist.”
Allie says the key to making corrugated the best choice for produce packaging is making sure boxes remain printable, glueable and recyclable.
PCA specializes in creating custom produce packaging to meet all needs and budgets, and many customers appreciate that corrugated produce packaging delivers something other materials can’t — a blank canvas for more printed brand messaging.
In some markets, we also help produce growers and distributors become more efficient by installing and servicing box-erecting equipment onsite. “We train their operators and mechanics to run the equipment so they can utilize box designs that are more cost-effective and are easily integrated into their automated packaging systems,” Greene says.
Sustainable packaging solutions are also needed beyond the produce industry. Sixteen states have introduced regulations for reducing packaging material and setting more stringent recycling standards, and more states have similar legislation in motion. PCA’s ongoing innovation and commitment to sustainable packaging help customers meet stricter government standards and rising consumer expectations.
Learn more about other topics in food packaging.