Produce Packing

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In place when I arrived at Albertsons was an initiative to reduce the amount of paraffin wax-coated produce packaging.  Why? Because wax coating, used to make the corrugated container stronger or resistant to moisture, is a contaminant to paper and
 fiberrecyclers.  It literally “gums up” their machinery. Consequently, Albertsons was paying a nationwide average of $90/ton to dispose of empty corrugated packages.  An intense assessment was performed and it was determined that many fruits and vegetables (categorized as SKUs or Stock Keeping Units) did not need packaging with the wax coating to successfully deliver the product to distribution centers and stores. 

A huge initiative was underway to change the packaging and first encourage, then later require, the grower, shipper and distributor to switch packaging to one which could be recycled by store personnel. Think about this: a produce package of peaches is delivered on a pallet from a refrigerated tractor trailer to the store.  The produce personnel unload the pallet and open the container to place the peaches on the display table.  The empty container (actually quite a few per trip) is wheeled to the back of the store and placed in the trash compactor.  This container was part of the sales price of the peaches though it was probably not an itemized item on the invoice. Now the store director will be paying the local trash hauler to remove the container and truck it to a landfill. This is a huge expense and a waste of valuable, renewable resources in the form of wood fiber. In fact at one point it was determined that the time between harvesting the tree on a paper plantation, processing it into paper, manufacturing the container, coating it with wax, shipping it to the produce supplier, filling it with peaches and transporting to the neighborhood grocery store, unloading and trucking the empty container to the landfill was approximately 120 days.  All the energy, natural resources and human resources associated with the production of the tree and the container are used for one trip from farm to grocer.  That is inefficient and certainly not sustainable in anybody’s book.

Collaborating with container manufacturers, coaters, industry groups, produce suppliers (including growers and shippers) and paper mills (recyclers), a new produce box was designed: one that not only eliminated the use of paraffin wax but also had slots and tabs to make more secure stacks of containers on pallets.  Alternatives to non-recyclable wax coated packaging have been endorsed by The Fibre Box Association and other industry groups.

This collaborative approach was an improvement on previous processes and made it a more forceful argument when asking and then requiring produce suppliers to change their packaging.  

Because it is cumbersome and expensive to inventory multiple packages for multiple customers once a supplier agreed to switch to a wax-alternative package they switched their entire line.  Consequently, this initiative revolutionized the produce packaging industry as currently all grocery stores and other sales outlets receive fruits and vegetables in recyclable packaging.