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New Research Confirms 7 Key Sustainability Benefits of RPCs

Posted by IFCO Systems
May 04, 2016

If the use of IFCO RPCs isn’t already a chapter of your sustainability story, it might be time to begin a new chapter. A recently released Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) study from Franklin Associates provides some important sustainability information that shippers and retailers alike may wish to share with their customers, as well as to put into action in enacting sustainability improvements for their operations.

This latest study validates the substantial environmental benefits of employing RPCs in the supply chain versus corrugated containers. For every use, RPCs deliver:

  • 31 percent lower greenhouse gas emissions
  • 85 percent less solid waste
  • 65 percent lower water consumption
  • 34 percent lower energy demand
  • 72 percent lower eutrophication
  • 51 percent lower ozone depletion
  • 48 percent lower acidification

While costly to perform, LCA studies provide substantial benefits to supply chain stakeholders. LCA results provide clear, verifiable information about environmental performance. When they are armed with this information, companies can benchmark the performance of current products versus alternative solutions as they strive to reduce their environmental footprint. At the same time, many consumers will appreciate understanding the relationship between the packaging specified by retailers and environmental impact.

A key feature of LCA studies is that they follow a rigorous scientific method, and as such, remove elements of doubt surrounding their validity. To perform the research, IFCO enlisted Franklin Associates, leading LCA consultants. Franklin Associates clients include the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the American Forest and Paper Association, the Grocery Manufacturers Association, and many Fortune 500 companies.

LCA is an established scientific method for making comprehensive, quantified evaluations of the environmental benefits and tradeoffs for the entire lifecycle of a product system, starting with raw material extraction and concluding with final disposition at the end of useful product life. The new Franklin Associates study was peer-reviewed by packaging and LCA experts at the School of Packaging at Michigan State University and the University of Michigan.

The research compared IFCO RPCs with display-ready corrugated fiber containers (DRCs) and non-display-ready corrugated containers (NDCs), the main transport packaging alternatives to RPCs in the fresh produce supply chain. Applications involving ten leading produce items were considered, including apples, bell peppers, carrots, grapes, iceberg l , onions (dry), oranges, peaches/nectarines, tomatoes, and strawberries. 

The environmental benefits of RPC usage result primarily from avoidance of energy consumption and emissions incurred during container production. While corrugated containers are deployed only once in fresh produce applications, IFCO RPCs average 39.3 uses in their lifetime. As a result, the manufacturing inputs for RPCs on a per-trip basis are tiny. The impact is less than 1/39 of the energy and emissions involved in the production of a new RPC.

Even when the resources expended in the reverse logistics of RPCs are factored into the analysis, including transportation, handling, and washing, the sustainability benefits are much more pronounced than for corrugated on a per-trip basis. The durability and reusability of RPCs, combined with IFCO’s logistical efficiencies and optimized wash process, make the difference.

LCA studies are necessary because they provide clarity about the environmental impact of various options. In the case of the new IFCO RPC report, it offers the opportunity for supply chain participants to explore new options for sustainability, validate choices already made , to build upon them, and to celebrate with customers.

Download the LCA

Topics: Sustainability