Shipping pallets get an incredibly bad press from certain groups who claim that they are a bad choice for the environment, but are they really that bad?
Some of the arguments against their use include:
– Too many wooden pallets end up in landfill sites
– Wooden pallets are heavy, resulting in higher fuel consumption during transportation
– The manufacture of wooden pallets leads to deforestation
Despite the fact that some companies have made the switch to using plastic pallets instead of wood, it is estimated that more than 90% of the several billion pallets that are in circulation at any one time are wooden ones.
PLASTIC – Better?
Plastic pallets are 30% lighter in weight than those constructed with wood and this without doubt makes a significant difference to fuel costs associated with any form of transport. They also have the added benefit of being waterproof and impervious to acids, fats and bacterial growth, making them ideal for the shipment of pharmaceutical products and food.
The majority of plastic pallets are made from 100% recycled plastics and have the appeal of being user friendly for those handling them – due to the complete absence of splinters!
For some companies, it would seem that plastic pallets provide an excellent alternative, despite the fact that they are significantly more expensive than wooden ones, but for the majority of businesses, wooden pallets work just fine.
Lets take a quick look at how green, (or not) wooden pallets actually are…
Pallets can usually be repaired and reused and with so many companies willing to pay and collect unwanted pallets nowadays, fewer than ever are being discarded responsibly in landfill.
The growing trend for ‘upcycling’ and reusing used pallets in all manner of creative ways has further reduced this problem, these days pallets are being made into fences, furniture, art, walls, flooring and much more…
It is estimated that approximately 73% of pallets are recycled. The recycled material is used in a variety of different ways including:
• The repair of damaged pallets
• Wooden pellets for fuel
Wood is a natural material that will biodegrade fully should it end up in a landfill site.
Wooden pallets are heavy in comparison to plastic alternatives making their carbon footprint higher in this respect, but the processes involved with manufacturing and recycling plastic pallets are more damaging to the environment than the processes involved with working with natural wood.
Although this is a common assumption, it is not strictly true because pallets are constructed using low grade off cuts of wood that have been discarded once the choice cuts are selected for furniture making and so on. Pallets take this by-product and put it to good use!
Trees are not generally cut down for the production of pallets alone and the majority of manufacturers and suppliers only use materials that are accredited by the FSC, (Forest Stewardship Council).
So, Back To The Original Question…
On the face of it, with high rates of recycling, it appears that wooden pallets are not deserving of a bad press. Wood is a natural, biodegradable and renewable product and pallets are a product that can easily be reused, repaired and recycled in a variety of useful ways.
Plastic has an important role to play in the pallet market but the most important thing of all is for all pallets (whether they are manufactured from wood or plastic) to be reused, recycled or upcycled, that way they are doing their bit to help the environment carrying on from their original use.