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Pallets

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Did You Know... Nearly 2 billion wooden pallets are currently in circulation in the US alone, with a majority of them replaced each year. This consumes an estimated 50 percent of the country’s annual hardwood harvest. (Environmental Leader, April 2012).

Minimum Sustainable Recommendations

If the weight of the product to be shipped or stored on pallets is suitable for plastic pallets, request the following:

  • Must be manufactured with 100% post-consumer or post-industrial plastic material

In addition, request for a supplier take-back program; where the supplier reclaims the purchased pallets that have reached the end of their life and remolds them into new pallets.

If the weight of the product to be shipped or stored on pallets exceeds the capacity of plastic pallets, request wooden pallets as follows:

  • If the pallets are to be used and remain in Canada and US, select untreated wood pallets. Note that the ISPM-15 standard for wood treatment does not apply if the pallet remains within Canada and US.
  • If the pallets are shipped internationally, select heat treated pallets with no chemicals used.

In addition, request for wood derived from a sustainable forest certified by an internationally recognized third-party forestry stewardship program (e.g. Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI), etc).

 

What are the issues?

Millions of wooden pallets are created for shipping and warehousing goods worldwide. There are many environmental impacts associated with wooden pallets, with deforestation being one of the main impacts. Wood harvesting can result in loss of habitat, loss of flood protection, increased land erosion and a reduction in carbon sequestering. In addition, most wooden pallets are only used once or twice before they are discarded (FSC-US, 2002), generating high volumes of waste.   

Wooden pallets may contain insects and their associated diseases, which may be carried to other regions when shipped worldwide. As a result, the International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC) developed a standard for internationally shipped wood packaging materials (e.g. crates, pallets, etc), called the International Standards for Phytosanitary Measures No. 15 (ISPM-15). This standard requires wood to be debarked and heat treated or fumigated to prevent insect infestation. There are no regulations set out in the standard regarding the fumigation or heat treatment processes for wood.

Methyl bromide, a pesticide, is often used in the fumigation process. Heat treatment can be conducted with or without chemicals. If chemicals are used in the heat treatment process, formaldehyde is often used. Both chemicals are carcinogenic to humans and toxic to our ecosystems. When pallets containing formaldehyde or methyl bromine are discarded, these chemicals can contaminate and leach into soils and groundwater.

 

What are the options?

Fortunately, there is an alternative to wooden pallets. In recent years, there has been a transition from wooden pallets to plastic pallets, as organization try to improve their environmental footprint.

Plastic pallets can be manufactured from 100% post-consumer or post-industrial materials. Materials such as high-density polyethylene (#2 plastic) or high-impact polystyrene (#6 plastic) are often used. Since plastic pallets are made with recyclable plastics, they can be recycled.

Suppliers may offer a take-back program when pallets have reached the end of their life. Old pallets are grinded and remolded into creating new pallets. This process uses fewer resources as manufacturing materials are recovered and re-used over and over again.  In addition, these pallets do not require treatment as plastic cannot be inhabited by insects.

Plastic pallets are more durable and last longer than wooden pallets. Plastic pallets are approximately 30% lighter than wooden pallets, leading to a reduction in fuel consumption and greenhouse gases when shipped.

NOTE: It is important to determine the weight of the products being shipped or warehoused on the pallets. While plastic pallets can hold a significant weight load (1,500 to 2,800 pounds), pallet manufacturers indicate that wood pallets can be manufactured to hold heavier loads. Therefore, the bidder must indicate the size of the pallet required and the load to be placed on the pallets.

If wooden pallets are purchased, select certification from an internationally recognized third-party forestry stewardship program such as FSC and SFI.  This ensures that the wood harvested for use as pallets, originated from well-managed forests, minimizing the impacts of forestry and logging.

Also, wooden pallets that have reached the end of their life should be sent back to a pallet recycling facility to reduce landfill waste. The wood can be reused to create new pallets or be converted into gardening mulch.

References

Forest Stewardship Council, 2002. http://fsccontrolledwood.org/news/archive.php?article=235&

 

Last Updated: November 2013

 

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