Motivated by the desire to be more sustainable as an industry, as well as by requests from buyers and end users, companies are looking to more reusable and recyclable packaging solutions.

“We’re seeing more biodegradable and compostable packaging this year than we’ve ever had,” said Steve Greenfield, director of sales and marketing for Lawrenceville, Ga.-based NNZ Inc. “With the economy, we thought this was going to take a nose dive.”

Iceless packing for foodservice ranks as one area where shippers are really innovating. At the Produce Marketing Association’s annual foodservice conference July 24-26 in Monterey, Calif., Mann Packing Co., plans to show off new packaging for its broccolini and Simply Singles whole leaf lettuce.

“The packaging modifications are to be greener,” said Gina Nucci, director of foodservice marketing for the Salinas, Calif.-based company. “It’s the way we’re going.”

The iceless packs are cleaner for distribution centers and for foodservice warehouses, and also allow for the product to be packed in unwaxed corrugated cardboard boxes. Unwaxed containers are recyclable, while waxed containers tend not to be.

Prima Bella Produce Inc. is also using iceless and waxless packaging for its fresh-cut corn products.

“Most items that need to be ice injected need waxed corrugated cardboard,” said Mark Bacchetti, owner and chief executive officer of the Tracy, Calif.-based company. “Those need to be disposed of in a landfill. Unwaxed cartons can be baled and recycled.”

Bacchetti said the company has been transitioning to iceless for the last year. Most retailers and foodservice buyers, he said, have ways of recycling the cardboard.

Pack trends focus on recycling
                                 Courtesy Stemilt Growers Inc.

Wenatchee, Wash-based Stemilt Growers Inc's Artisan Organics carton for cherries is made with kraft-based paper, which uses less wood fiber and less water in production than boxes made with white paper.

Companies are looking more toward wax impregnated cartons that are recyclable, said Roberta Anderson, business development manager for Food Alliance, a third-party certifier.

“We are starting to get away from waxed, moving some products away from that,” said Brian Knott, president of Grow Farms, Louisville, Ky.

Knott said some of the company’s farmers used to pack in the field in waxed cardboard, but because of good agricultural practice guidelines, have started to use reusable, washable containers in the fields.

“We’ve certainly made a shift toward corrugated cardboard boxes with a high level of postconsumer waste,” said Kirk Homenick, director of sales and marketing for Houweling’s Nurseries, Delta, British Columbia. “We’re also transitioning toward bleach-free.”

Many companies are going full-circle and looking for packaging that is both recycled and recyclable, Greenfield said.

“We’ve seen a big jump in (polyethylene terephthalate) made from ground up water bottles,” Greenfield said. “Here on the East Coast, there aren’t’ as many people composting, but we do a lot of recycling.”

Greenfield said oxodegradable plastics, plastics that have an additive to break down more quickly, are also becoming more acceptable than they were in years past.

“PLA (polylactic acid) was the buzzword years ago, and a lot of people stayed away from oxodegradable,” Greenfield said. “It’s not the best for the environment, but it’s better than regular plastic.”

PLA can corrupt a regular plastics recycling system, but oxodegradable does not, Greenfield said. However, oxodegradable breaks down into tiny pieces of plastic, instead of biodegrading into what he calls “earthworm food.”

For Stemilt Growers Inc., Wenatchee, Wash., about 8 million apple and other tree fruit trays will be made from the company’s own recycled cardboard and paper this year, said Roger Pepperl, marketing director.

“Recycled is kind of in the tank this year because of the economy, the price of recycled is not very good, but we’re still using it,” Pepperl said.

The company also continues to use more kraft-based cartons.

“It uses less energy, less pulp to make, and it’s highly recyclable,” Pepperl said.

Stemilt is using about 2 million cartons annually in kraft versus bleached cardboard, he said.

Duck Deliveries of Portland, Ore., and its subsidiary, United Salad Co., Portland, are using more and more green packaging, said Ernie Spada Jr., vice president.

“We keep looking at different platforms,” Spada said. “We package a lot of value-added, so we’re looking at a lot of green packaging from shelf to containers. The packaging right now is a big piece.”

One of the biggest challenges with green packaging is its availability, said Gregory Sagan, senior vice president of sales and marketing for Modern Mushroom Farms Inc., Avondale, Pa.

“Our biggest hindrance is finding sustainable methods as alternatives to current methods,” Sagan said. “For example, we have found packaging solutions, however, the supplier is unable to meet our volume requirements.”