(Feb. 27) Deardorff Family Farms, Oxnard, Calif., has taken its environmental slogan, “Sustainable Farming for a Healthier Life,” to heart, shipping celery in a first-of-its-kind recyclable box.

Deardorff packs and ships about 35,000 boxes of Sir William brand celery a week during the winter months in Oxnard, then shifts to Santa Maria, Calif., during the summer, shipping 10,000 boxes throughout the U.S., Canada and Japan.

Tom Deardorff, president, said the company began testing the recyclable boxes in mid-January and that it is gradually shifting from wax-saturated boxes. He said Feb. 20 that volumes are still down because of the January freeze that damaged much of the celery crop, so the testing process is going slower than it might if product were at normal levels.

“We’re slowly introducing the box rather than completely converting all at once,” he said. “There’s also going to be a learning curve on this new box because of different handling characteristics.”

Deardorff said that to ensure the boxes are recycled, the company is sending them to receivers that are amenable to the concept. He said that in addition to a prominent recycling logo on the boxes, information will be included on bills of lading and manifests.

“We’ve only sent them to a handful of receivers, and we’ve had a lot of direct communication with them,” he said. “It will probably take a number of years to transition.”

He said the slow changeover to the new boxes also is due to continuing research and assurances that the manufacturer can produce sufficient numbers to keep up with demand. He said the boxes will initially cost more than the wax-saturated boxes.

“The difference between the two is substantial at this point, but we’re working with our supplier to narrow the gap,” he said. “The incentive on the receiver’s side is that they can sell these boxes into a recyclable recovery system rather than paying to get rid of them. Our incentive is from an environmental standpoint in trying to create something that’s more sustainable and environmentally friendly.”

He said he worked with the supplier, whom he could not reveal, in designing the box, but not the technology behind it.

“I was involved as far as the layout of the box, where to put the flaps and venting for cooling,” he said. “The supplier will be trying to get as many companies (using the boxes) as they can so they can spread the price differential to make it economical for the whole industry,” Deardorff said.