Jan 03, 2020
by: Tom Burfield
Over the years, the greenhouse produce industry has been closely associated with best practices relating to waste reduction, recycling and sustainability. So it stands to reason that, with the current clamor for reducing plastic packaging, greenhouse operators would be in the forefront. In Canada, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced plans to ban single use plastics by 2021.
Many Canadian and U.S. greenhouse growers have turned to cutting-edge technology to help reduce their reliance on plastic packaging.
In Kingsburg, Ontario, Mucci Farms is consistently focused on sustainability in all facets of its vertically integrated operation, said Fernanda Albuquerque, packaging development manager.
Most recently, Mucci Farms responded to market demands to reduce plastic by working with global partners to find and launch Simple Snack, a line of compostable, plastic-free packages to add to the firm’s selection of sustainable packaging.
“These packs are composed of a paperboard tray with lidding film made from sugarcane and wood fibers using a process that emphasizes social and environmental responsibility,” Albuquerque said.
The company received the Best Sustainable Packaging award at the Produce Marketing Association’s Fresh Summit in October.
“We are launching this program with popular Mucci Farms products such as Sun Drops and Sun Bliss grape tomatoes and the award-winning Sweet to the Point Pointed Mini Peppers,” she said.
Leamington-based Pure Hothouse Foods Inc., which markets the Pure Flavor brand, also is working with its packaging and supply chain suppliers to find cost-effective solutions to reduce its carbon footprint, said Chris Veillon, chief marketing officer.
“We are creating formats that are user-friendly, something that does not require multiple types of packaging or containers to be used,” he said.
An example of the company’s sustainability effort is its new Mini Munchies Tomato Snack Pack, which the company touts as “the ultimate lunchbox snack.”
It’s a 12-ounce pack of tomatoes that breaks into four separate servings.
What makes it special from a sustainability standpoint is that the base of the custom-designed pack is made from 100% recycled materials, the top seal film reduces overall plastic by 25%, and the design reduces the need to use another container when the pack is opened, Veillon said.
But he added that there can be challenges associated with packaging alternatives.
“We have seen alternatives that are made from 100% recycled paperboard, palm fiber, even sugarcane, however the cost factor is likely the biggest hurdle to delivering an eco-friendlier pack,” he said.
Houweling’s Group, a Camarillo, Calif.-based greenhouse grower and marketer, has long been a champion of sustainability by implementing practices such as CO2 capture, recycling water and waste heat and using compostable packing trays, said David Bell, chief marketing officer.
The company’s latest venture is a partnership with Santa Barbara, Calif.-based Apeel Sciences, the manufacturer of an edible coating that enhances the shelf life of avocados, citrus, apples and other products, including cucumbers.
Apeel enables Houweling’s Group to eliminate the plastic wrap on long English cucumbers while matching or exceeding the shelf life that plastic provides, Bell said.
The company has successfully completed the testing process and will work with Apeel to install the necessary equipment to apply the special coating. That should be completed by the end of the second quarter of 2020.
The Netherlands-based Jasa Packaging Solutions, which has an office in Richmond, Va., is in talks to introduce its Jasa Sleever machine to greenhouse operations in the U.S. and Canada, said sales representative Joost Somford.
The Jasa Sleever allows for “super-fast” tray-packing of a variety of fresh produce, including apples, cherries and avocados, but would likely be used with tomatoes in greenhouse operations, he said.
The packaging is plastic free and is designed for items that call for ventilated packaging. The sleeves are made from recyclable cardboard, Somford said.
CKF Inc., Hantsport, Nova Scotia, has worked with Pure Hothouse Foods and other greenhouse and traditional growers to help them adopt sustainable packaging options, said Shannon Boase, CFK’s director of new market development.
After manufacturing molded pulp trays for 86 years, CKF in 2013 added a new production technology process for molded pulp called thermoformed molded fiber, Boase said.
Marketed under the Earthcycle brand, CKF’s packaging functions much the same as its plastic counterparts.
“From an operational point of view, we work hard to make it the same as plastic,” Boase said.
“We had to make sure that if they are adopting our packaging, it works in their existing manufacturing and production line.”
Thermoformed packaging can match and, in some cases, extend shelf life, she said.
The packages also can be used on the increasingly popular top-seal packaging.