“Pallets Move the World” is the motto of the National Wood & Pallet Container Association and it is most definitely true. Wood pallets are widely used in the supply chain and can be found in nearly every type of logistics operation , whether it be packaging, transportation, warehousing, crossdocking, pick/pack, etc. The use of wood pallets has revolutionized the supply chain and has increased efficiency in logistics by orders of magnitude. In the United States today, wood pallets are a $12 billion dollar industry that is a critical part of the infrastructure that keeps the US economy functioning even in the midst of a global pandemic.
In North America, wooden pallets are produced and recycled by an army of companies (3000+) spread across the continent. Most often, these are family owned businesses that are now reaching the 3rd-4th generation. The companies can range in size from 2 people in a garage, to companies with hundreds of employees based across multiple geographic regions, to global corporations with thousands of employees.
Pallet brokers are companies that typically don’t own any assets (like pallet yards), but are able to tap into this industry ecosystem to service clients with diverse manufacturing or production operations across the country or globe.
Pallets are generally inexpensive to manufacture. The raw material used is the byproduct of wood that is left over after the high grade material goes to veneer, furniture, and paper among others.
Typically, they are constructed using softwood or hardwood depending on availability of pallet lumber in the specific regional market. New pallets are generally built by machine as it allows for much more efficiency in production vs being built by hand. Here is an example of a pallet building machine at work:
Wood pallets are very often rebuilt and recycled multiple times before the end of their life cycle. This makes them the most sustainable and reusable link in the supply chain. The video below is a great view of what takes place when a recycled pallet is repaired.
Wood pallets tend to move through the supply chain and stay within a particular region. For example, a beverage manufacturer palletizes their product on a standard 48×40 pallet. Those pallets (unit loads) are loaded into a truck and that truck then hauls the load to a beverage distributor 125 miles away. The beverage distributor may break down the unit load to put them on another smaller vehicle for delivery or move the full pallet to a nearby grocery store chain.
Eventually, the pallet is emptied and then it is resold, repaired if needed, and re-used in the local supply chain. This process happens repeatedly, with some slight variation on the type of load transported, thousands of times a day.
Over time, this regional pallet pool will decline in quality because the pallets have been repaired many times. At the end of their utility, pallets have a number of options for recycling. They can be ground into mulch, made into animal bedding, or repurposed into creative projects. The important point is that they are recycled throughout their entire life cycle all the way to the end. in fact, wooden pallets and containers are recycled 95% of the time and are an important part of any company’s sustainability effort.
Trees within forests are like wind and solar power in that they are a renewable resource. Whereas wind and solar energy can be regenerated relatively continuously, trees require more time to convert solar energy to wood so it can be utilized. In this article we’ll take a quick look at a tree’s growth cycle.
Tree seedlings will often wait for ideal environmental conditions to arise before sprouting. Some species of tree seeds will remain intact for many years, waiting for the perfect environment, while others will only sprout under extreme conditions such as a forest fire. Only when the seeds are exposed to the right conditions will they sprout.
A seedling will appear above the ground and the first two leaves will start to absorb sunlight to provide energy for further growth. Seedlings will then start developing woody characteristics and will continue to grow and seek out the sun. Saplings are usually 1 – 4 inches in diameter and about 4.5 feet in height. Many nurseries will sell saplings at this point in the tree’s growth cycle because they are capable of being transplanted with a high survival rate.
It is during the early growth phases of a tree’s life that it absorbs the most amount of carbon. During the process of photosynthesis, young trees convert carbon dioxide to breathable oxygen and use the carbon internally for growth. When hundreds of thousands of trees within a forest complete this process simultaneously, they fight global warming by reducing the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
About half of any given piece of lumber’s net weight is carbon that was sequestered from the atmosphere and lumber will continue to store that carbon until it naturally disintegrates or is burned for energy. No part of a tree goes to waste! The bark and branches are used for supplies like garden mulch and animal bedding whereas the lower quality of lumber from a tree is used to make wood pallets. According to the research article “Pallet Re-Use and Recycling Saves High Value Material from Landfills,” there are about 4 billion wood pallets in circulation just in the United States. Wood pallets have been used for decades and have established themselves as the safest and most reliable way to transport goods and services while storing carbon sequestered from the atmosphere.
According to the UNHCR, developing countries host 86% of the world’s refugees and about 51% of all refugees are children. To be clear, a refugee is a person who has been forced to leave their country to escape war, persecution, or natural disaster. With so many children at refugee camps, their childhoods are impacted by the experience of fleeing their home country for fear of their safety. Humanitarian aid ships to them on wood pallets yet many children are left without toys.
Jon Robbins, a 33 year old advertising and design professional, wants to change that. Instead of shipping food, medicine, and water to refugee camps on one-way wood pallets, he wants to ship them on wood pallets that can be converted to sports equipment. That way, the kids at refugee camps can play and have some fun!
Jon said, “I was inspired by a friend telling me about his visit to a refugee camp and how eerily quiet it was. And it turns out that although more than half of the refugees in the camp are children, they aren’t playing, which is why it seemed so quiet. I love sports and I really believe in the importance and healing power of play, so I was inspired to try to see how to help get some sports equipment out to those children.
It’s a tough sell to get play equipment on a pallet that’s transporting food, water, and medicine to refugees, so we began designing and developing a pallet that is also a completely self-contained sports equipment system.”
His first patent-pending design is an all-inclusive basketball set. The 48×40 pallet includes instructions, spare parts, a hoop, net, and ball. Each pallet is designed to be reconstructed into two stand-alone basketball nets and includes everything needed to construct it. Other designs he has planned are soccer goals and skateboards. The wood pallets are manufactured in upstate New York.
According to the UNHCR, there are 21.3 million refugees in the world and less than 1% of the world’s refugees are ever resettled. Although refugee camps are intended to be a temporary stay, for many, they are long-term. Giving kids at refugee camps toys to play with gives them hope and joy.
For more information or to help the cause, visit the Play Pallets website.