Fraunhofer Institute for Building Physics shows a clear carbon footprint advantage for reusable plastic containers

SIM publishes carbon footprint study of packaging systems for Fruit and vegetable transports in Europe

Updated April 17, 2018

Global warming potential, RPCs versus cardboard containers

The study commissioned by Stiftung Initiative Mehrweg (SIM) of the Fraunhofer Institute IBP (Germany) has come to the conclusion that reusable transport platforms (RPCs) generate around 60% fewer greenhouse gas emissions than disposable transport packaging. The results were announced in a February press release.

The main objective of the study was to quantify the greenhouse gas emissions of reusable, foldable plastic containers and disposable cardboard containers as well their subsequent comparison. To achieve the main objective, processes were developed along the entire value chain of both packaging systems, based on their actual transport performance in Germany, Spain, Italy, Netherlands, and France. At the same time, the lifecycle phases, including production, use, and end of life were also analyzed to embrace the entire life cycle of the two packaging systems.

The two packaging systems were compared with regard to the distribution of 1,000 tonnes of fruit and vegetables. The study found that when using reusable plastic containers around 15 t of CO2 equivalent were emitted, whereas when using disposable cardboard containers over 37 t CO2 equivalent were generated.  According to the study, RPCs required 3,070 kg of plastic versus 52,200 kg of corrugated cardboard containers.

“The result is clear”, emphasized Martina Gehrmann, the managing director of SIM. “Already From the 6th round, reusable transport platforms cause lower greenhouse gas emissions.”  She noted that reusable transport platforms can be used more than 50 times.

After the sixth trip, RPCs have a smaller carbon footprint than disposable containers

Gehrmann stressed that the study demonstrated the climate protection benefits of reusable platforms, “as in all well-known investigations before.” she noted.

“This study adds to the growing body of evidence that shows RPCs outperform single-use cardboard boxes when it comes to sustainability,” said Wolfgang Orgeldinger, CEO of IFCO, a leading international provider of RPCs. “For instance, the study supports information we published last year showing the use of IFCO RPCs has eliminated 3.4 billion kg of COemissions over the last 25 years, the equivalent of removing nearly 500,000 cars from the roads.”

The Fraunhofer study findings are consistent with the results of a 2017 study, Comparative Life Cycle Assessment of Reusable Plastic Containers and Display- and Non-Display-Ready Corrugated Containers Used for Fresh Produce Applications, conducted by Franklin Associates for IFCO. That Life Cycle Assessment showed RPCs outperform single-use cardboard boxes on numerous sustainability criteria, including carbon emissions, solid waste, water use, energy use, and environmental pollution impact.

“The growing body of industry data confirms the intrinsic sustainability benefits of RPCs, providing additional incentive for forward-thinking and socially-responsible growers and retailers to partner with IFCO to improve the efficiency and sustainability of their supply chains,” concluded Orgeldinger.

Further information is available in the study, “Carbon Footprint von Verpackungssystemen für Obst- und Gemüsetransporte in Europa” English version pending), for which a critical review was carried out in accordance with the requirements of ISO 14040/44.