Used to ship, store and display items, pallets play a number of crucial roles. Aside from coming in a variety of sizes and types, such as block, stringer, flush, reversible, etc., there are two chief options at your disposal when it comes to pallet material: wooden and plastic.
Wood pallets are made from lumber, a renewable resource, whereas plastic pallets are made from high-density polyethylene (HDPE), which is created from petroleum or natural gas. With wood being a natural and renewable resource, wooden pallets can be used repeatedly as well as be repurposed or recycled.
And yes, they are also biodegradable. From a sustainability viewpoint, this also includes the people involved in the pallet making process, their working environment and the natural environment, itself.
The wooden variety is the best option for companies wanting to reduce their ecological footprint on the Earth.
Let’s take a closer look at the root of the material to get a better understanding of why wood is the way to go.
What About the Trees?
Some fear that by optioning for wooden pallets they’ll be contributing to deforestation of the luscious and invaluable trees that grow across Canada, but that’s simply not the case.
According to the Canadian Wood Pallet and Container Association, more than 150 million hectares of the country’s forests are certified as sustainably managed, with less than 0.2 per cent harvested every year.
And those trees are not always necessarily cut down for the sole purpose of making pallets. They are felled for other uses, such as manufacturing furniture and flooring; while any leftover, less desirable timber – known as downfall – is designated to pallet production. While this wood may not have met the requirements for its original purpose during the mill’s grading process, it is still quality material that makes for reliable and durable pallets.
Wood sourced from sustainably harvested forests has a negative carbon footprint – this simple but fundamental feature of forest growth provides significant benefits to wood when describing the carbon footprint of wood compared to other materials used in packaging, such as plastic, according to the Canadian Wood Pallet and Container Association.
The Energy Factor
Have you ever wondered just how much energy is consumed in making a pallet? If you are purchasing pallets for shipping purposes, the energy factor seems easy to bypass when making that critical decision. But it’s an important consideration.
When it comes to plastic vs. wooden, wooden has the advantage in the manufacturing process — the former is said to create large quantities of chemical pollutants, according to bioenergyinc.ca.
“The burning of fossil fuel is damaging our environment by unlocking sequestered carbon and releasing it into the atmosphere in the form of CO2. Wood fuel on the other hand is ‘carbon neutral’ – a tree will absorb as much carbon during its lifetime as it gives off when it is burnt meaning there is no net gain in CO2 emissions.”
In fact, it is estimated that for every cubic metre of wood produced, approximately one tonne of CO2 is absorbed. Note: A wood pallet represents storage of roughly 27 kg of carbon. And in some cases, burning plastic can release toxic fumes.
Also, the repair process isn’t as simple as the wooden variety since the pallets would have to be melted down and remolded.
Some may argue that plastic pallets are ‘green’ if they are made from recycled plastic, take a second to think about the process that created the plastic in the first place. During a process called cracking, plastic (a high-density polyethylene or HYDPE) is formed. Petroleum is heated to an extreme temperature, causing the production of ethylene gas. Those gas molecules combine together to form polyethylene.
Pallets Made of Wood Can Be Used Repeatedly
Due to the nature of their composition, wooden pallets can be easily repaired when needed by reusing parts of other damaged pallets or new timber made from virgin wood, block board or pressed wood chips, as pointed out by CEI-Bois. On the other hand, plastic pallets can only be used until they crack or break. The confederation further states that the lifespan of wooden pallets can be enhanced with the use of wood preservatives or thermal treatments.
Note that I mentioned earlier that wood is technically a renewable resource. In addition, if trees are replaced by growing more trees in its place, it further validates the usage of wood as renewable. Even if you do not reuse the same wood pallets and order more from a pallet manufacturer for your shipping needs, you are still doing a good deed for the environment by not going the plastic route.
Wooden Pallets Can Be Repurposed or Recycled
When the life of a pallet comes to an end, there’s no reason for it to end up in a landfill. Pallets and packaging are simply dismantled and used in a variety of ways, from energy recover (heating), landscape mulch and animal bedding to soil enhancement, wood particle board or pressed wood pallets.
Pallets have also become a popular medium for the DIY’er – all one has to do is type the word “pallet” on Pinterest to see all the innovative ways they are repurposed.
From modern interior design to practical applications, especially in the garden, the wooden pallet can be used in endless ways.
There’s no doubt about it that wood pallets are already a very sustainable product – especially when compared with their plastic competitor.
To review, in addition to being renewable, they are:
- Easy to repair
- Easy to repurpose
And while plastic pallets are often touted as a good replacement for wooden pallets, it’s important to keep in mind that plastic is not a biodegradable material. As one of the oldest and most natural materials on the planet, it’s near impossible to compete with wood on both usability and environmentally safe grounds. Whether it’s to ship (and protect the integrity of your) products or it’s for DIY purposes, use wood pallets to get the job done while being environmentally responsible.