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Safeway expands use of RPCs to ship produce

Safeway Inc (NYSE: SWY) has transitioned to using reusable product containers (RPCs), rather than corrugated boxes, to ship many types of produce from the farm fields, through the distribution channel and to final store destination. This transition eliminated the use of more than 17 million pounds of corrugated boxes.

The Pleasanton CA-based supermarket chain, which has introduced a range of sustainability practices across its operations, has used RPCs for decades on many of its consumer brand categories. It began testing RPCs in its distribution system for fresh wet-pack produce—fruits and vegetables kept on ice until they reach the store—in early 2010.

Making the transition for produce was a more complicated process than for other products because, to make it effective and decrease cardboard usage, Safeway’s distributors and grower partners also had to commit to the switch. The transition continued throughout 2011.

Today, many types of produce travel from the field, to the distributor, to Safeway’s product distribution centers, and to the final store location in RPCs. IFCO Systems, the company’s major supplier of RPCs, said Safeway’s implementation of RPC usage to decrease waste was the fastest and most aggressive program roll-out to date.

Tom Nartker, Safeway vice-president of transportation, said employing environmentally friendly methods of product distribution is part of Safeway’s overall commitment to sustainable business practices.

“This expansion into produce is a natural extension of best practices in logistics,” he said. “Safeway will continue to look for opportunities to expand the usage of RPCs into additional categories to have an even greater positive environmental impact.”

Use of reusable, sustainable containers not only keeps non-recyclable shipping containers out of the supply chain, but it also has an even greater positive environmental impact. RPCs can be stacked higher and more densely than traditional boxes, allowing for more efficient shipping and requiring fewer trips to transport the same amount of product. This, in turn, decreases trucking emissions and traffic volume. To date, the positive environmental impacts are these:

•Eliminated use of more than 17 million pounds of corrugated boxes

•Avoided harvesting about 114,000 trees

•Reduced emissions of 37,518 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions from the environment, equivalent to removing 6,872 passenger cars off the road

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