The distribution system for fruit and vegetables is very extensive, complex and above all a ceaseless logistical process, with a significant impact on the environment and even societal relationships. In Germany they have studied the ecological and social effects of the most commonly used commercial packing systems.
In April 2005, the German environmental foundation, Stiftung Initiative Mehrweg (SIM), began a life cycle assessment project, with the aim of analyzing and comparing the effects of Europe’s top three transportation packing systems on the environment. The foundation also collected information on the cost differences between the systems and the social impact with regard to sustainable development. The life cycle engineering department attached to the building physics faculty of Stuttgart University was chosen to carry out the study in close collaboration with PE International. The study was checked and reviewed by the independent Five Winds International research institute.
In Europe there are three main types of packing used for transporting fruit and vegetables: plastic crates, cardboard boxes and wooden crates. Plastic crates are returnable, reusable and collapsible solutions. Wooden crates and cardboard boxes only go in one direction, from supplier to customer. The study compared the ecological benefits and drawbacks of these packing systems. The targets of the study were the five major producers of fruit and vegetables (namely the Netherlands, Spain, Italy, France and Germany) and the four biggest markets (the Netherlands, the UK, France and Germany).
”In this way we can model the market as realistically as possible,” explains Leif-Patrik Barthel, MSc., of the University of Stuttgart. ”In fact our research is more comprehensive than a typical life cycle assessment. It deals with the issue according to the principles of sustainable development. In addition to technical and financial audits the social aspect was taken into account.”
Returnable plastic crates achieved the highest score in the comparison test. Disposable wooden crates came a close second. With its low market share (8-10 %) the second place does not result in any concrete benefit to the environment. Cardboard boxes finished far behind on points.
According to this research, the environmental benefits of plastic crates compared with one-way systems grow when their service life and the amount of recycled material used in their manufacture is increased. The returnable system was also much more cost-efficient than the one-way system.
For further information, please visit: www.europoolsystem.com/english/news_multiway.htm and www.europoolsystem.com/documents/executive_summary-english-070201.pdf