A new Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) published by IFCO, a provider of reusable plastic containers (RPCs), attempts to discredit the corrugated packaging industry for having the highest recovery rate of any packaging system in America. The LCA posits that since corrugated boxes for produce only have an average recycled content of 38.4 percent, excess recovered fiber collected for recycling displaces production of virgin fiber, which results in apparently higher greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions for corrugated.
“This assumption and LCA methodology used by IFCO mischaracterizes the complexities of a balanced fiber production system,” said Dennis Colley, Executive Director of the Corrugated Packaging Alliance. “The corrugated packaging industry uses both virgin and recovered fiber for optimal and maximum production – and a high level of recycling should never be discounted.”
Recovery of old corrugated containers reached a record 92.9 percent in 2015. Around the country, 95 percent of Americans have access to community-based curbside and/or drop-off corrugated recycling programs.
Nearly 52 percent of the recovered fiber collected for recycling in the U.S. is used to make containerboard for more boxes. Additionally, 11.5 percent is used to make boxboard for primary packaging like cereal boxes, more than 32 percent is exported to other parts of the world where virgin fiber is scarce and the remainder goes to other products like tissue and printing and writing papers.
The IFCO LCA, “Comparative Life Cycle Assessment of Reusable Plastic Containers and Display- and Non-Display Ready Corrugated Containers Used for Fresh Produce Applications,” was conducted by Franklin and Associates and evaluated three types of containers, RPCs, Display and Non-Display Corrugated Containers across ten large-volume produce commodities. For more information about the sustainability of corrugated packaging, visit www.corrugated.org