California grower puts recyclable boxes to the testSANTA CRUZ, Calif. — Two corrugated box manufacturers recently saw first-hand how their recyclable products stand up to the ordeals of field packing, vacuum cooling and transportation at a trial run with Lakeside Organic Gardens.

Representatives of Interstate Container and Green Bay Packaging followed iceberg lettuce and other vegetables from the Watsonville-based organic grower-shipper’s fields April 19 to New Leaf Community Market in Santa Cruz, where a salad was served after delivery.

The boxmakers are members of Global Green USA’s Coalition for Resource Recovery, which organized the event. They’re offering and developing alternatives to traditional paraffin wax-coated produce boxes, which can’t be recycled.

The product reached Santa Cruz in good shape, but the jury is still out on how far and how fast recyclable coatings and boxes can go to replace paraffin.

“We’re in trial mode,” said Dick Peixoto, owner of Lakeside Organic Gardens, a 2,000-acre operation. “We’ve tried several different companies in the past, and those were failures. This one looks a little more promising, but it’s a work in progress.”

Some vegetables test box strength more than others; examples include dense commodities such as red cabbage and cucumbers. But the sternest test is on items exposed to ice or water — like broccoli.

“A lot of our products are packed real wet, so some cartons have to be able to take a dousing of water, and some just have to be able to stack up against others that are wet,” Peixoto said. “That’s where these (recyclables) might work out better. We’ve done some with broccoli ice injection that didn’t work. So we’re trying to find what they will work for. I started looking at this as a mid-range solution to get us halfway to ice injection.”

Nevertheless, wax’s days are numbered, as the packaging companies see it.

Jeff Cormier, national sales and marketing manager at Reading, Pa.-based Interstate Container, said his company, which also manufacturers for the poultry and seafood industries, plans to be wax-free in three to five years. Zach Eckert, sales manager at Houston-based Spectra-kote Corp., said an 80% reduction in waxed box use is realistic.

But gaining the ear of grower-shippers isn’t easy.

“Lakeside Organic is more receptive to the ideas we’re proposing than some of the larger scale producers,” said Brian Walker, manager of technical services and product design at Green Bay Packaging. “The bigger growers know what they do, they’ve got traditions and stick to them. But we also recognize that our products need to be improved, so we want to put ourselves in an environment to see how they perform.

“It’s a trial in California, but this is product we have been shipping and using for several years,” Walker said. “It has proven field application, but the environment here is a bit different than in the Midwest. It’s an opportunity for us to get into some heavyweight applications.”

The boxes are certified recyclable by the Fibre Box Association.

Annie White, director of the Coalition for Resource Recovery, said the demonstration was a step toward matching recyclables’ success with poultry in the produce industry.

The recyclable boxes are cost-neutral compared to wax boxes, Cormier said.