The wooden “tomato box” that has for decades been a firm packaging favourite of greengrocers, farmers and supermarkets, has been almost entirely replaced by the cardboard box to carry everything from avocados to zucchini from the fields to the shelf.
What consumers may not appreciate, however, is that the evolution of the cardboard box has brought about less wastage, benefits for the environment, health advantages and ultimately, helps keep down prices for the consumer.
“Corrugated boxes for packaging everyday food stuff and products are usually taken for granted. However, they are actually a remarkable invention with the same strength properties as a wooden box but with many more benefits,” says Ralph von Veh, MD of Mpact Corrugated, a division of Mpact, a leading southern African paper and plastics packaging group.
Traditionally, wooden boxes were used to transport products and fresh produce locally and internationally. However, these were unwieldy to put together, requiring more labour and the produce was often damaged by the time it reached its destination point.
Wastage, especially in developing countries remains a major concern as, according to the Packaging Council of South Africa (PACSA), up to 40% of all post-harvest produce is lost due to packaging failures.
“Wastage is problematic as the cost of produce that never reaches the consumer hits farmers hard economically, and consequently the cost is passed onto the consumer,” says von Veh. Packaging companies are therefore under pressure to design durable lightweight boxes that don’t compromise on strength. Packaging needs to have vertical strength when stacked for export to withstand up to 1 500 kilograms on the bottom layer. The corrugated-based packaging also needs to be able to withstand up to six weeks under refrigeration for the export market. “We have designed and made corrugated boxes for over 80 years and we constantly have to come up with smart ways in which to respond to changing needs and to move with the times,” says von Veh.
He notes that in the past 10 years boxes have also become much more than just a transport container. Manufacturers and brand-owners now want their branding incorporated into packaging at the farm or agri-processing centre. Once the box is filled, the produce is not handled again until it reaches its destination and the consumer selects straight from of the box.
“There are numerous benefits to the way in which we now package produce. One of these is the health benefits that come with the produce being handled less, which reduces the chance of contamination,” says von Veh.
Less post-harvest handling also decreases the chance of wastage, as produce is less likely to be damaged.
He says that one of the biggest benefits is that corrugated boxes are fully recyclable. The majority of the recovered paper collected by the Group’s recycling division, Mpact Recycling, comes from supermarkets and box cut-offs. These are the most easily recovered source of fibre as there are large amounts in one location.
“Households are always the most difficult to collect recyclables from,” says von Veh. “As the holiday season approaches, consumers will be using packaging much more than usual. So we appeal to everyone to remember that all cardboard boxes are fully recyclable. Please don’t just throw them away in your normal household waste bags because we’d love to have them.”
Chloe Webb +27 (0) 11 214 2421/ +27 (0)83 305 0144
Deborah Chapman | Communications Manager, Mpact
+27 (0) 11 994 5500 / +27 (0)76 650 4155
Mpact is a leading southern African paper and plastics packaging group with revenues of R6.2bn in 2011. Mpact employs 3,700 people at 30 sites, of which 23 are manufacturing sites. Mpact earns approximately 10% of its sales outside of South Africa. It also has plants in Mozambique, Namibia and Zimbabwe. Mpact has the number one market position in corrugated packaging, recycled-based cartonboard and containerboard, recovered paper collection, PET preforms, styrene trays and plastic jumbo bins. These accounted for approximately 90% of its revenue in 2011.