As supply chain decision-makers urgently turn their focus toward sustainability, they are looking at opportunities to reduce CO2 emissions through initiatives such as renewable energy, transportation optimization, IoT (internet of Things), and more. But have you considered how wood pallet and packaging recycling can make a difference for your sustainability aspirations?
The funny thing about pallets, like other things in life, is that if you aren’t aware of them, they are easy to overlook. In the United States, there are 2 billion of them hiding in plain sight. If we assume 50 lbs of wood per pallet, that amount translates into 100 billion pounds of wood, which sequesters roughly 45 to 50 billion pounds of carbon. We will return to the CO2 reduction benefits of wood pallet and container reuse and recycling in the next post.
Once people become aware of pallets, however, some folks are surprised to realize that pallets are on the job almost everywhere in supply chains from inbound material at the production plant to supporting unit loads arriving at the retail outlet.
As the National Wood Pallet & Container Association states, “Pallets Move the World®”. According to one report, around 94% of industrial and consumer goods in the United States travel on a pallet at some point in their supply chain journey from producer to distribution location to end customer.
The MH1-2016 standard defines the pallet as a “portable, horizontal, rigid, composite platform used as (a) base for assembling, storing, stacking, handling and transporting goods as a unit load; often equipped with (a) superstructure.” When products are stacked on top of a pallet, the combination of goods and a pallet is known as a unit load.
The mechanized handling of materials in unit loads offers many benefits versus the manual handling of goods. This practice helps protect sensitive products from damage associated with “touch labor” or manually repositioning each box, for example. The pallet also protects products during interaction with material handling equipment such as forklifts, conveyors, pallet storage racks and automated storage and retrieval systems. Palletized unit loads can be stored more efficiently than unpalletized goods in most storage systems or through the stacking of unit loads. Palletization also dramatically increases the speed of loading and unloading versus floor loaded or unpalletized goods, and through the avoidance of manual handling, improves workplace safety.
Pallets or wood packaging may be used for a single supply chain link or to move goods through multiple links. For example, plywood orchard bins move fresh tree fruit to the packing shed where it is packed and palletized onto a wood pallet. The bin is reused in the orchard, while the pallet is employed for delivery of packaged fruit to a grocery distribution center, and then perhaps as the base for a full unit load or a mixed pallet load assembled for delivery to the retail outlet. In a mainframe computer supply chain, on the other hand, components may arrive palletized, with the sensitive finished product then shipped in a custom wood container to the customer location.
In part 2, we will take a look at the life cycle and recycling of wood packaging and the positive impact that recycling has on carbon emissions.
Forest fires are one of the most destructive natural disasters that can possibly hit dense forest areas. It is hard to contemplate why anyone would ever consider forest fires to be ‘needed’ when so many trees, animals, plants and resources get destroyed during these fires. However, some of the resources, especially burnt trees, can often be harvested after a forest fire and reused on wood pallets.
Fires are important for regeneration and renewal of forests across the globe. These fires clean out flammable litter like leaves, logs and more on the forest floors. By cleaning out all this litter the forest stays healthy since many pests and diseases are destroyed in the process. The cleaning of forest floors also prevents extensive and extreme fires from occurring because fires are much easier to keep under control or extinguish when there is less litter around. The fires also reduce density and open the canopy which allows the sunlight to reach other plants and boosts new and fresh growth.
In some cases, tree loggers can harvest burnt trees after a forest fire so the logs can be salvaged. In many instances, once a log is processed into lumber it’s impossible to tell that the log came from a firery forest. These products pass grade inspections and are used home building in furniture construction. In other cases, the log will portray visible defects in which case an ideal application for these discolored products is wood pallets and crates. The discoloration often found from these logs is usually not a problem for wood pallet recyclers. In fact, for many buyers, it’s often a good deal because the main defect is discoloration you can often get a better overall quality product!
Even when forest fires burn through the forest floor, trees are still valuable, renewable resources. Burnt sites will regenerate and regrow plant life much quicker than normal plant growth. This is because the fire itself provides plant life with valuable nutrients and minerals. The forest also catches up to coniferous forests quickly because young trees and plants have much more room to prosper and grow thanks to reduced density and a boost in sunlight on the forest floor.
In the year 2014, approximately 258 million tons of waste materials were generated by Americans and eventually reached various landfills stationed around the country. A report issued by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) broke down the components of this enormous tonnage as follows: 28.2% was comprised of food waste and yard trimmings, 26% was attributable to paper and cardboard products, plastics accounted for 13% of the total, rubber and textiles contributed 9%, metals were 9%, wood products made up 6%, and glass accounted for 4% of the total.
Consumer products giant Procter & Gamble, a globally known corporate giant, has pledged to keep plastics entirely out of landfills by the year 2020. Plastics aren’t the only by-product of manufacturing that the company intends to shield from landfills though. It has announced that other by-products will be recycled right at the manufacturing locations as well, so there is no need for shipping them to landfills.
Using a process that shreds previously unwanted materials and compressing them into sheets, they can be used as building materials, says the company. The stated landfill avoidance goal of the company is to achieve zero percent waste materials that need to be shipped off-site, and instead recycle them all into materials usable for other industries and applications.
One of the biggest landfill avoidance undertakings that currently goes on, and is expected to increase, is that of recycling wooden pallets. According to the research published in “Pallet Reuse and Recycling Saves High Value Material from Landfills”, in 1992, only about 50 million wood pallets were recovered from landfills and recycled for further usage. Three years later, that figure jumped to 150 million pallets, and by 2006, the number had increased to over 350 million. By recycling so many pallets, it has been calculated that 5.7 billion board feet of lumber were saved in this country, by not having to produce new pallets from freshly cut lumber.
Wood pallet recyclability has been steadily increasing because lumber is a valuable and limited resource. To discard it in a landfill would truly be a waste. New studies are currently being conducted to determine how many wood pallets are diverted from landfills.