You have to respect an industry that’s trying to improve its product, even one that’s been in use and largely unchanged for a long time. The corrugated cardboard industry has made strides in improving production processes, including increased efficiency and decreased waste, since corrugated boxes were first made in the 1890s. However, the product itself hasn’t changed all that much over the decades.
Modern corrugated is still made of paper, as it was more than 100 years ago. It still has a tendency to retain moisture — in fact, its thirsty qualities were what inspired 19th-century haberdashers to use the first form of corrugated cardboard as sweatbands inside men’s hats. Corrugated boxes are still prone to crushing, slicing and splitting if they’re handled too roughly.
Corrugated represents the largest segment of the packaging industry, and a good portion of all the corrugated that gets produced also gets recycled — in 2013, 89 percent of corrugated cardboard was recovered, according to the EPA. Still, demand for corrugated is slowing down; consumption is expected to decrease 3.6 percent annually between now and 2021, according to Packaging News reports.
No one’s ready to call corrugated out of the game yet, but when it comes to shipping perishables, a growing number of producers and distributors are turning to new technologies like reusable plastic containers (RPCs). If you’ve been clinging to corrugated for transporting produce, eggs, dairy, poultry and meats, here are five reasons to replace corrugated with RPCs:
- If you’re shooting for zero waste, RPCs can get you there. Recently, The Kroger Co. announced it will continue to integrate RPCs into its supply network as part of its push to “meet and exceed” the EPA’s zero waste threshold — 90 percent diversion from landfill — by 2020. RPCs are made from recycled plastic and can be reused over and over again for a very long time. When an RPC finally does reach the end of its usable life, it can be recycled to make other things, including new RPCs!
- You can ditch your membership in the soggy-bottom gang. Water and corrugated don’t play together well, yet perishables and moisture often go hand-in-hand. Chilled meats, poultry and eggs can create condensation or even leakage that corrugated absorbs. Plastic, of course, doesn’t absorb moisture. When you pack perishables in RPCs you don’t have to worry that a soggy box bottom will break open and damage your product in transit. Nor will your perishables sit in a moist environment that can speed spoilage.
- You’ll never again face crushing defeat. Sure, you can stack cardboard boxes really high because — let’s face it — it’s easy to toss cardboard boxes on top of each other. But the higher you stack, the more prone those boxes and their contents (eggs, veggies, fruits) are to getting crushed under their own weight and the weight of whatever you’ve put inside them. The greater structural integrity of RPCs ensures you’ll have fewer instances of crushing defeat — and far less damaged product.
- RPCs are just cooler! Or, more accurately, what you put inside an RPC can cool down quickly and stay cooler longer because of its enhanced ventilation properties. Specifically, eggs cool more quickly in RPCs than in corrugated boxes, meaning less spoilage. According to a report by Sensitech, eggs cool to 45°F in 1 day vs 6 days in corrugated.
- You can get stuff on shelves sooner. Perishables packed and transported in corrugated have to come out of the box before they can go on store shelves. That’s a lot of labor to handstack product onto store shelves. Many RPCs, such as the ones we use for eggs, are retail ready, which means they are designed to go right on the shelf still full of your perfectly protected product.
Corrugated boxes will likely always have a place in the supply chain, but when it comes to moving perishables, corrugated just can’t stack up to the advantages of using RPCs.