Natural Foods Merchandiser

Roundtable works to eliminate waxed cardboard

An industry group seeks to replace waxed cardboard boxes, used widely to transport produce and meat, but not recyclable because of their thick, petroleum-based coating.

The Recyclable Transfer Packaging Roundtable includes representatives from paper companies, retailers, coatings manufacturers and produce and protein suppliers. Working with Santa Monica, Calif.-based Global Green, the group seeks to get as many produce growers and shippers as possible to try recyclable alternatives during the spring harvest season.

Because paper companies pay retailers for baled corrugated cardboard, it has become the most successful recycled commodity. About 73 percent of corrugate is recycled, according to the American Forest and Paper Association. Industry estimates compare the 5 cents to 7 cents per box a grocer earns by recycling it to the 5 cents to 15 cents it costs to trash it.

"Instead of paying to throw it away, you're paid to recycle it," said Cynthia Forsch, roundtable moderator and environmental consultant in Missoula, Mont. "It's a simple decision from a cost perspective."

Food retailers are being asked to sign up for waxed box demonstration projects and to encourage their produce vendors to sign up as well.

About 10 percent of the cardboard containers used in food transport—2 billion to 3 billion pounds of corrugate—are coated with wax to make them waterproof. Such "transfer packaging" is used for meat, fish and wet produce packed in ice, said Michelle Walker, Wild Oats Markets' manager of standards and a member of the packaging roundtable.

The heavy wax coating fouls the machinery that pulps the boxes for recycling. One waxed box can ruin a whole load of corrugate and makes recyclers very cranky. "They fine you if you put a waxed container in there," said Scott Seydel, chief executive of coatings manufacturer EvCo Research of Atlanta.

EvCo has developed a biodegradable, compostable waterproof coating made from a blend of recycled plastic, vegetable cooking oil and edible tallow. The coating breaks into its components when processed so it doesn't clog the machinery, Seydel said.

The roundtable hopes to create a program for recyclable waxed cardboard that will be as easy to implement as corrugated recycling has become, Forsch said. A pilot program at Albertsons has saved the 2,400-store chain an estimated $15 million.

"We took off after the transfer packaging because the infrastructure was already in place," Seydel said. "There are balers behind every grocery store."

For information, visit programs/recycling.html.

Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXVII/number 3/p. 30

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