The battle between the corrugated box and the plastic crate industries for share of the fresh produce market is getting stranger by the minute. The latest twist is the release by leading crate supplier, IFCO, of a comparative life cycle analysis (LCA) that, guess what, favours the crate.
At first IFCO released only the executive summary of the study, garnering the “corrugated is worse” headlines that it sought in the trade press, and effectively delaying public scrutiny of any backup for its claims. LCAs and especially comparative ones, are supposed to be transparent so that everyone can assess the veracity or otherwise of the claims and assumptions made. PPEC requested a copy of the full report and finally received one. In the meantime, of course, IFCO has been touting the results of its study to growers and retailers alike, encouraging them to accept its conclusions as gospel.
Now hang on a minute! We had questions before, but the full study raises even more! In particular, we were looking for substantiation of the claim that more recycling of corrugated leads only to more global warming potential (GWP); and for back-up for the claim that the average recycled content of a US produce box is only 15 percent.
The full report is disappointing on both counts. There is no credible substantiation for the 15% claim, for example, only a deliberately vague reference to discussions with unnamed “industry consultants and fiber produce container manufacturers” (page 134). With some assistance, because the footnote reference in the study no longer works, we managed to track down one corrugated manufacturer who acknowledged that in 2012 he used 85% virgin board (from Australia) to make some produce boxes for a very specific application involving wet conditions.
That’s it! One guy, and some unnamed consultants! This is the flimsy evidence for surmising that the whole industry works this way. It gets worse. From Appendix F it seems that the Peer Review Panel didn’t even question the validity of the 15% assumption, which is really odd given how the results of the study depend so much on it being correct.
We can understand why the US corrugated box industry is upset. Their average recycled content has been publicly stated and verified to be close to 50 percent. In Canada, ours is even higher, at 80 percent. IFCO and its consultants really need to produce a lot more backup for their 15% claim if they want to be taken seriously.