Carton versus Plastic: An Interesting Report on a Finnish Research

Two Finnish companies conducted an interesting study about the differences between paperboard and plastic packaging using the example of packed cherry tomatoes.

Nowadays, most vegetables, such as tomatoes, are packed in plastic – be it a plastic bag or a plastic tray. But with the increasing ecological awareness worldwide many suppliers decide to reduce plastic in their assortment. That’s why many vegetables and fruits are now offered packaging-free. However, the consumers’ opinions are ambivalent because the risk of products getting damaged is significantly higher, when they’re not packaged. So, it’s time for the industry to think about some alternatives to the traditional plastic packaging.

Paperboard Cartons as an Alternative to Plastic Trays

Närpes Grönsaker, a Finnish vegetable company, and the paperboard producer Metsä Board released a study for which they compared cherry tomato cartons made of paperboard to the currently used plastic tray. Part of the research is a detailed consumer study, which figured out that paperboard was widely perceived as convenient, innovative, aesthetically pleasing and sustainable with high quality. The participants even said that they’d favour paperboard packaging over plastic – even if they have to pay more for that. They welcomed the carton’s recyclability but also said that they can inspect the product better if it’s in a plastic tray. It’s pretty clear that the consumer wants to see and check on the product before buying it, especially when it comes to fruits and vegetables. But the research clearly demonstrates that people are looking for alternative packaging material.

Carton Versus Plastic

The research also focused on the shelf-life and climate effect of growing cherry tomatoes and the climate effect of a recycled PET container in comparison with cartons.

To compare both packaging materials effectively, the Natural Resources Institute of Finland studied the shelf-life of cherry tomatoes packed in cartons, to cherry tomatoes coming in a plastic box made of recycled PET. The results are quite interesting: Cherry tomatoes were preserved at least as well in paperboard cartons as they were in plastic trays.

Climate Effect and Food Waste

The difference between these two packaging is much higher when it comes to their climate impact. The aspect that was measured in the study showed that the effect ofrecycled PET is six times higher than the average value for paperboard cartons.

Overall, regarding all food packaging, the total climate effect of a box of cherry tomatoes was quite small – a large share of the impact comes from diverse packed food. Therefore, it’s most important to avoid food waste and to ensure that the food will be consumed, and nothing goes to waste. Plastic surely has some advantages over other materials, to name a few: It’s versatile and consumers can inspect the products directly through the packaging. It’s very light but firm and it has no effect on the taste of groceries.

What do you think of the discussion “carton versus plastic”? Do you know of other studies researching the impact of packaging materials? Tell us in the comment section below.