From 2003 to 2009, the use of wax-alternative boxes increased 105%, according to the Elk Grove Village, Ill.-based Corrugated Packaging Alliance.

Dwight Schmidt, executive director of the alliance, said July 9 that he expects the percentage to keep climbing.

“We have more documented conversions and more retailers specifying wax-free recyclable packaging than ever before,” Schmidt said.

The association was expected to release data from its latest wax-alternative survey in early August, but the results were not available at press time.

Waxed boxes were once essential to shipping iced vegetables, such as broccoli, but improved technology, costs and environmental concerns have led to waxless and iceless packing innovations.

“Several notable retailers are specifying that they want wax-alternative boxes so they can recycle it,” Schmidt said. “It has an effect on their sustainability efforts and their carbon footprint, but it also has a tremendous effect on their bottom line.”

Most waxed boxes can’t be recycled, and Schmidt said retailers pay $70 to $150 per ton tipping fees to dispose of them.

Wax-alternative boxes, however, typically can be recycled and contribute to the money retailers receive for recycling the massive amount of corrugated containers that come through their doors.

Schmidt said July 9 that the going rate for old corrugated containers was $115 a ton, and it has been as high as $200 a ton.

“That’s a significant revenue stream for a retailer,” he said, “and we get the boxes back to recycle.”

Schmidt said there still is plenty of waxed packaging in the supply chain. Part of the problem, he said, is that restaurants — which handle lower volumes of product and packaging at individual locations than retail stores — have less incentive to change.

“When a grower-shipper changes their retail packaging to wax alternatives, we encourage them to change all their packaging,” Schmidt said.

The alliance released a corrugated container lifecycle assessment this spring. The study, designed to evaluate the environmental impact of corrugated packaging products, determined that nearly 80% of all corrugated produced in the U.S. is recycled.

The study also found that 42% of the global-warming potential impact from corrugated packaging is caused by the 22% of product that goes to landfills at the end of its lifecycle.

The alliance is spreading its sustainability message through its Responsible Packaging Campaign. Schmidt said that campaign had a broad scope when it launched last year, but messaging for specific industries should be implemented starting in the fall.

The association will exhibit during Pack Expo Oct. 31-Nov. 3 at McCormick Place in Chicago.

Packaging association tracks waxless box demand