A peer-reviewed life-cycle analysis conducted for Tampa, Fla.-based IFCO Systems showed some positive results for reusable plastic containers compared to corrugated boxes.

The study, conducted by Franklin Associates, Prairie Village, Kan., showed RPCs have 92% lower water consumption, 82% less solid waste, 76% lower ozone depletion, 55% lower eutrophication (a process that can promote algae production), 49% lower energy demand and 47% lower acidification, said Hillary Femal, director of strategic market development for IFCO.

The study analyzed 10 different product applications, which represented more than half of the retail produce volume.

“We wanted to choose commodities that would give us a good representation of the overall market,” she said.

But while the environmental impact is important, Femal said the primary drivers for RPC use are product quality and a variety of supply chain savings.

“You gain a lot of efficiencies at store level and at (distribution centers),” she said.

From 10% to 15% of total retail produce cases now are shipped in RPCs, depending on the season, she said.

The industry has seen steady growth over the past couple of years, said Fred Heptinstall, president and general manager of IFCO USA.

“The industry keeps growing at about the same rate,” he said. “The base just gets bigger.”

He said 12,000 stores now use RPCs, including most of the major supermarket chains.

St. Louis-based Schnuck Markets Inc. is the latest chain to adopt them, he said.

RPCs are compatible with the industry’s traceability trend and the Produce Traceability Initiative, Heptinstall said.

When RPCs first were introduced, there were complaints that they were hard to track, but as their use becomes more widespread among many segments of the produce industry, those complaints are largely a thing of the past, Femal said.