It is very useful to shrink wrap cucumbers. It is not only good for the cucumber's shelf life. It is also helpful with regards to hygiene since people still like to pick up and put products back onto store shelves. This is what Piet van den Oord wrote in a recently published blog post.
A non-wrapped cucumber quickly loses 3.5% of its weight. This loss happens in the first three days after it was harvested. Packing cucumbers delays this ageing process. A wrapped cucumber loses only 1.5 % of its weight after two weeks. That is a huge difference.
Wrapping cucumbers has many other benefits, besides a longer shelf life. For example, the packaging's environmental impact is much lower than the cultivation and transportation of the cucumbers themselves. When a cucumber gets thrown away, the used energy (and so its ecological impact) is lost.
Most cucumber packaging is produced from a recyclable polyethylene fossil-based raw material. There are currently many developments in the field of renewable packagings for cucumbers. For example, it is possible to manufacture biobased as well as biodegradable cucumber shrink film. But, which kind is the correct choice?
Biobased, recyclable cucumber film
There is a minimum of at least 80% biobased raw material in biobased cucumber shrink film. This raw material is also four-star certified. It comes from a plant-based material, such a sugar cane. The packaging has the same characteristics as conventional fossil-based cucumber shrink film. It is also excellent for recycling.
Since it is a plant-based raw material, this film extracts CO2 from the air. There are far less CO2 emissions from producing this product than the sugar cane company uses to grow the raw material. This low emission rate means this biobased film has a negative CO2 footprint. At the same time, this biobased film can be recycled perfectly well after use.
Biobased, compostable cucumber film
PLA or Polylactic Acid is used when making biodegradable cucumber shrink film. This ensures that the film breaks down 100% in the compost heap or industrial composting process. It is OK HOME compostable. The raw material production's CO2 emissions used for this biodegradable cucumber film is higher than that of both biobased and fossil-based recyclable raw materials.
Compostable raw materials also cannot be recycled. This means it can only be used once. The packaging then breaks down entirely.
So what is the right choice?
The right choice depends on the use of the film in the waste phase. You should opt for a biodegradable kind of film if that provides an advantage for the whole chain. If the cucumber waste and packaging are thrown away in one go, then go for biodegradable packaging.
It may be possible to throw the cucumber waste and the packaging away separately. In this case, choose a bio-based recyclable kind of film. After all, the packaging can then be recycled.
The Dutch company, Oerlemans Plastics, uses the Ecochain calculation method to determine the different cucumber films' environmental impact.