(Nov. 24) INDIANAPOLIS — Rather than try to sell the entire industry on the benefits of the corrugated common footprint, the Corrugated Packaging Alliance is tackling things one commodity at a time.

The alliance recently conducted a study involving a Washington apple shipper and found that it can cost anywhere from 7% to 14% more to ship 24 million pounds of apples annually from Yakima to Chicago using reusable plastic containers rather than corrugated.

The study focused on an anonymous apple grower in Washington that packs in both kinds of containers. According to the study, total costs for packaging, handling and distributing came to $3.7 million for the corrugated common footprint, while costs for the RPCs came to $4.3 million.

Dwight Schmidt, executive director of the Corrugated Packaging Alliance, said the study was an important one, especially for retailers.

“The retailer normally pays for all of the freight costs,” he said.

The study found that RPCs can be more expensive than corrugated in the first phase of the distribution cycle, when the product moves from the grower-shipper to a distribution center, then on to the retailer. The corrugated containers are then recycled, with no additional costs incurred.

The study showed that during the return trip, RPCs would cost an additional $472,000 annually for shipping, handling, washing and storage.

In addition, the study found that the costs of leasing RPCs increased overall costs for both the retailer and the grower-shipper. Schmidt said that in a typical leasing arrangement, the retailer pays about 12% more per year to receive RPCs than to receive corrugated.

The grower-shipper, meanwhile, pays about 7% more annually for RPCs than he would for corrugated. That’s not counting startup costs for specialized equipment to handle the RPCs, which can add as much as $3 million to the tab.

Schmidt said the company involved in the study, which he declined to name, is using the results to convince its customers to switch to corrugated.

In the meantime, Schmidt said the alliance plans to do additional studies on a commodity-by-commodity basis, as issues come up. He said he is hopeful that the studies will prove beneficial to alliance members.

“We’ll do the research, and our members will provide the solutions,” he said.

This commodity-by-commodity approach falls in line with a study commissioned by the alliance earlier this year. That study, conducted by Willard Bishop Consulting Ltd., Barrington, Ill., found that, while retailers are predicting a 5% increase in the usage of corrugated over the next 18 months, they are not planning to abandon RPCs altogether.

Instead, the study found that retailers will use a mix of corrugated and plastic to ship their products, depending on which container best suits the commodity.

For more information on the study, visit the alliance Web site at www.corrugated.org.