Pallets are at the core of the logistics industry. They help with the safe despatch and delivery of millions of loads every year.
But businesses across all sectors are under increasing pressure to practise and demonstrate sustainability. (http://www.iisd.org/businessThis puts pallets under increased scrutiny, partly because they’re usually made of wood and susceptible to damage, and partly because they’re heavy, and extra weight of course means higher transport costs and more emissions.
Many companies have begun to tackle this problem by looking at more eco-friendly alternatives to the traditional wooden pallet. These include plastic pallets, which can be cleaned and reused more easily and have a longer life. There are also recyclable pallets made of corrugated cardboard; these are now being used by some major companies, including Swedish retailer IKEA and car company General Motors.
Cardboard pallets help to cut recycling costs. They can be baled before disposal and so take up less space than empty wooden pallets. This makes for more efficient and sustainable use of pallet racking from suppliers such as http://www.rackzone.ie/ and helps cut storage costs.
Recycle or Reuse?
Some people point out that wood pallets can be reused for other shipments, whereas cardboard ones are generally single-use. However, this doesn’t make wood the more sustainable option. Empty wooden pallets are still heavy and bulky to ship around, so more resources are needed to collect empty wooden pallets from a store for reuse than to bale and recycle cardboard ones. It’s a sad fact that wooden pallets are still a major contributor to landfill waste.
Similarly, new corrugated cardboard pallets take up less rack space in storage and less space in shipping. They are of course lighter too, all of which adds up to lower transport costs. 1,800 empty cardboard pallets will fit on one truck, whereas you’d need more than four separate loads to carry the same number of wooden pallets.
So why isn’t everyone adopting these more sustainable methods? Part of the reason is inertia further up the supply chain. If more large companies were to follow IKEA’s lead and insist on the use of recyclable corrugated cardboard pallets, there would be wider acceptance in the logistics industry. While things are moving in the right direction, we’re still some way off the end of the wooden pallet.