In 1972, the United Nations designated June 5 as World Environment Day to highlight that the protection and health of the environment are key issues affecting the well-being of people and global economic development.

Ensuring enough food for the world’s growing population, while reducing impacts on the environment, is one of the major challenges of the 21st century (UN, 2015). In turn, food systems are responsible for 23-42% of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions (IPCC, 2022).

The fruit and vegetable supply chain provides consumers with convenience, wide variety and availability of fresh produce. But, on the other hand, it is a major contributor to climate change. Packaging accounts for a large proportion of the carbon footprint of food, contributing approximately 20% to the emissions associated with the fruit and vegetable supply chain (Heller, 2017).

On this World Environment Day, it is essential to highlight choices that affect the well-being of the planet, such as the materials used for packaging. ARECO’s partners, however, offer a more sustainable solution with their reusable plastic crates, which significantly reduce ecological footprints.

Areco’s reusable crates improve on single-use cardboard boxes in several respects.

A study conducted by the UNESCO Chair on Life Cycle and Climate Change found that the distribution of 1,000 tons of fruits and vegetables in reusable crates (RPCs) with a 10-year shelf life and 10 annual rotations has a carbon footprint 88% lower than distribution in single-use cardboard boxes, considering a transported weight of 15 kg per box (BALA and FULLANA, 2017).

The end-of-life of the life cycle of RPC packaging accounts for 5% of its total carbon footprint, being the stage with the lowest contribution. However, for cartons it is 61%, and is the stage with the highest contribution.

In addition, ARECO’s RPCs have a carbon footprint cost almost 10 times lower than a single-use cardboard box over their life cycle. This means that transporting fruits and vegetables in RPCs means a lower cost in terms of carbon footprint mitigation.

In addition, ARECO’s RPCs have a carbon footprint cost almost 10 times lower than a single-use cardboard box over their life cycle. This means that transporting fruits and vegetables in RPCs means a lower cost in terms of carbon footprint mitigation. In fact, RPCs have almost 2.6 times less eutrophication potential and 1.2 times less acidification potential than cardboard boxes.

On this World Environment Day, adopting RPCs in agri-food distribution is a step towards a more sustainable future, in line with the global goal of reducing environmental impact through innovative and eco-friendly solutions.

By Sahar Azarkamand, researcher of the ARECO Fellowship of the UNESCO Chair of Life Cycle of ESCI-UPF.

References:

BALA, A., and FULLANA, P., 2017, Análisis comparado de diferentes opcines de distribución de frutas y verduras en españa basado en el ACV, Cátedra UNESCO de Ciclo de Vida y Cambio Climático, ECSI-UPF.https://areco.org.es/wp-content/uploads/2021/02/Memoria_final_Estudio_ACV_ARECO.pdf

Heller, M., Systems, U. of M.C. for S., 2017. Food Product Environmental Footprint Literature Summary: Packaging and Wasted Food. State of Oregon Department of Environmental Quality

IPCC et al., 2022, Climate Change 2022: Mitigation of Climate Change. Contribution of Working Group III to the Sixth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK and New York, NY, USA (2022), 10.1017/9781009157926

United Nations (UN), 2015. Transforming our World: The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs.