Packaging materials have become a key element to ensure the sustainability of the economy. Although current legislation promotes the use of renewable, recyclable and biodegradable packaging, such as cardboard, paper or wood, there is still a need for greater awareness among entrepreneurs, as well as changes in the commercial structure to facilitate their use. This, at least, is the case with the packaging for fruit and vegetables, which is a plastic-dominated market.
This problem has been discussed by various sectorial experts in the forum 'Agricultural packaging under consideration: profitability and sustainability', organized by the Economist. Its conclusions highlight the importance of offering freedom to producers to choose the packaging materials for their products, as well as of letting politicians know that they should put an end to certain systems that make the price of food more expensive and cause damage to both the sector and the environment.
In this sense, the president of the Institute for Sustainable Production, José Cabrera, said that the EU could, for example, introduce a certificate of sustainability, valid for all fruit and vegetable producers and exporters, in order to address the social and environmental component of this problem. It should also set specific goals in order to address the financial variable. "There is an economic interest, which involves 200 million Euro a year being spent by producers, according to some studies, and this must be corrected," says Cabrera.
These losses, moreover, not only translate into a lower income for the producers, but, as highlighted by consultant Ramón Tubío, co-author of "Comparative cost analysis: Corrugated cardboard packaging versus reusable plastic pool", they are transferred to society in the form of lower resources for "innovation, market development and employment, as well as a lower disposable income for the Spanish agricultural sector." Plastic boxes generate higher costs, compared to cardboard, and this is reflected in the final results. The former, as he explains, have to be rented, and many times, their size is not adequate for shipping or export, so producers are forced to "ship air." Plastic containers also generate extra deposit costs for losses or breakage, which reach up to 3.86 Euro per unit. Moreover, they can be used fewer than 50 times, which makes them less efficient compared to cardboard, which can be reintroduced into the chain at a certain price through recycling.
The losses caused by the use of plastic can reach up to 194 million Euro
According to the analysis carried out a few years ago for Proexport and Coexphal by this expert, the losses for the agricultural sector linked to the use of plastic can reach up to 194 million Euro. Tubio says that this figure has been calculated by extrapolating the results of studies on the expenses in both areas.
Also, it is highlighted that the labeling of plastic boxes is more expensive and prevents "brand creation" by producers, something that is currently basic for any trader.
With this system, he says, Spanish tomatoes, for example, "become a commodity, no matter where they come from, because it is difficult to indicate the origin. You see them in a German market and they are all the same, so a top product at international level becomes a commodity, which gives more power to the large distribution sector," says Tubio.
The director of Proexport believes it is essential that the authorities investigate and give fruit and vegetable producers "the freedom to choose the packaging they want with the end consumer in mind. We see that society is moving ahead, and we have wanted to get on that train for a long time, because that same society will eventually judge us," he says.