The United States National Park Service estimates that in the United States, 90% of all forest fires are caused by humans and the remaining 10% are from natural causes. Humans can cause forest fires from campfires that are poorly extinguished and lit cigarette butts that are thrown into brush. The remaining 10% of forest fires are caused by either lightning or lava from an erupting volcano. Canada’s rate of man-made forest fire prevalence is much lower than the United States. The Government of Canada estimates that each year 45% of forest fires are caused by lightning, which accounts for up 81% of the total land burned per year, and 55% of forest fires are caused by humans. Canada’s Wildfire Information System provides a detailed weather map, highlighting forests and grasslands around the country that are at risk for fires, and providing up to date information regarding active forest fires.
In North America, the public campaign to prevent forest fires started in the 1940’s in the United States with Smokey Bear and is the longest-running public service advertising campaign in U.S. history. Since that time, Smokey Bear has become a North American symbol of forest fire prevention as he is widely recognized across the United States and Canada. Smokey Bear’s campaign has evolved from a series of posters and advertisements into active social media presences on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.
Forest fires that take place near heavily populated areas are by far the most dangerous because of the threats they make on human life and the subsequent property damage that can follow. The Fort McMurray fire of May 2016 in Alberta, Canada was caused by humans and is the costliest fire in Canadian history, costing insurers an estimated $3.58 billion Canadian dollars. In the United States, those charged with starting a forest fire can face heavy legal consequences. Keith Emerald was charged with starting the 2013 Yosemite Rim fire from a campfire on steep terrain. Although charges against him were dropped, he faced a 5-year imprisonment and minimum $250,000 fine. With the threat of jail time and heavy fines, Americans face harsh punishments for starting forest fires. One practice used to prevent forest fires is to schedule a controlled burn, where land that is at high risk for fire is intentionally burned in a supervised and regulated setting. When properly executed, this can give forests the benefit of fire without posing risk to nearby communities or taxing public resources.
The problem remains that the majority of North American forest fires are caused by humans and this puts strain on our public’s resources. However, under the right conditions, fires can be good for the ecosystem because they leave behind an exposed canopy and fertile soil to promote new plant life growth. In fact, certain species of trees that have serotinous cones like certain species of California’s great sequoia and Canada’s jack pine need fire in order for their seeds to dry, open, and germinate to promote new life. New plant life and tree growth must be supported in order for North American forests to continue providing lumber for our future.
Wooden pallets can be recycled many times over. At some point though their cargo-carrying days are over. However, that is not the end of the line. It is actually the beginning of a new life cycle for a different product: hardwood mulch.
An estimated 32 million yards of mulch are produced annually, providing a large market for an important by-product of recycled pallets. The mulch business, and a growing biomass and wood pellet market are quickly helping the industry approach the goal of zero wood waste to landfills.
It doesn’t hurt that wood chips from recycled pallets are increasingly the preferred choice of arborists. A 1990 study evaluated the landscape mulch potential of 15 organic materials, including wood chips. Wood chips were one of the best performers in terms of moisture retention, temperature moderation, weed control and sustainability. Coarse textured organic mulches, like wood chips, are also the least flammable of the organic mulches.
“Wood chips are available locally in many communities. Most sources are… made from recycled pallets and other discarded wood products. It is an ideal Master Gardener-recommended product.” Master Gardener 2007
Another key driver for the growing mulch market has been the surge in demand for colored mulch. Consumer demand, specifically for an opportunity to add a low-cost, high-impact curb appeal design statement to their home, has helped the colored mulch market grow during a very challenging residential market. The color preference varies by region with the primary earth tone colors of red, light and dark brown, and black in most demand.
The wooden packaging industry is helping deliver innovative new products from wood waste, adding value to homeowners and improving the environment. Talk about an impressive life cycle.
Wooden pallets are typically the vehicle transporting products globally or locally. They carry products large and small – automobiles, tractors, building materials, pharmaceuticals, iPads, Smart phones, produce and other consumer goods.
Pallets are rarely seen as anything other than a transporter of goods. But at PalletCentral we are seeing a growing number of businesses looking at these platforms in a different way, and we’re not talking about stray pallet gardens shared on Pinterest or Etsy’s one-of-a-kind pallet wood creations. Below is one innovative use of pallet wood.
Art Underfoot: A Texas Story of Upcycled Pallets
Underneath all the layers of burnished coats of oil sealant lies a wood floor with a unique history. Wood that once moved the world, travelling across the globe until reaching its useful life and landing in one of many pallet yards in Houston, Texas, long associated with the city’s shipping industry, has now become art underfoot in a high-end home.
Wooden shipping pallets are typically a low-end commodity. Sometimes a pallet will get reused a few times before it ends up being scrapped or used as firewood. For Greg Schenck, president, Schenck and Company, custom wood flooring specialist in Houston, he had a better idea. He used inspiration from a ceiling while sitting at a bar at the Gage Hotel in far west Texas. The ceiling was created in a design common in southwestern construction and traditional pueblo architecture called “vigas” (round beams) and “latillas” (small straight sticks).
What Schenk thought would be a “cool floor if he could mimic the pattern on the ceiling” turned into a “labor intensive work of art.” The idea to use pallets came from seeing stacks of them at the local shipping yard. Once he made a sample for his showroom, he sold the floor. Their client was not concerned about the price; it was the look they wanted to create for their home.
Working with local pallet companies, Schenck said, “Everyone wanted to sell me new pallets. I only wanted to use the most damaged, most weathered pallets I could find. Those pallets have the most charm,” he added, “as long as they were structurally sound.”
Several truckloads of pallets later, Schenck denailed, disassembled and sorted pallet boards by color and wood species to get the right mix to create the floor. “With pallets, anything goes. You’ll get various widths, thicknesses and any species. I also wanted a good combination of colors in similar species.” He used mainly oaks – red and white oaks – and a mix of other hardwoods and softwoods.
All the boards were fumigated, and to maintain the weathered face of the boards, they were planed from the back to get a more consistent thickness. “We wanted to preserve as much character as possible but some of the boards had to be planed down so it wasn’t a trip hazard. Then some cuts on the board were distressed to match the rest of the floor,” Schenck added. On-site, the boards were glued to a plywood subfloor over the slab and face-pinned with headless pins. The “smoothing” process was accomplished with a nylon pad then a penetrating oil sealer was burnished into the floor.
The floor was extremely labor intensive and the client loved the floor so much that they bought the same flooring for their Texas ranch home.
The most appealing character of this wood floor is its history. Wood that once carried cargo from around the world or even transported local produce and pharmaceuticals makes a great story. Turning pallets into a finished flooring material is a great example of recycling, reusing or upcycling.