With climate change and environmental issues dominating headlines, many businesses are looking for ways to make themselves more sustainable. For businesses that rely on shipping, this can seem daunting. However, there are still ways to do this without sacrificing efficiency or budget. For starters, using plastic pallets over wooden ones is a huge step in the right direction. While this may seem backwards—isn’t plastic the main target of environmental movements? —it makes a lot of sense. Here we’ve listed five of the ways using plastic pallets can help the environment: the source, production, longevity, shipping effects, and ability to be recycled.
Wood pallets are made of—as the name implies—wood. Unfortunately, wood is a limited resource. Wood pallets require cutting down trees, which contributes to the global deforestation problem. While most US-made wood pallets use Canadian and not Amazonian lumber, they still need trees to be cut down.
Plastic pallets, on the other hand, require no such thing. Because plastic is man-made, it requires almost nothing in terms of natural resources. Aside from energy, which does have a number of sustainable options, only the specific elements needed to create plastic are needed. Most plastics are carbon based, although some varieties use silicon. Both are incredibly common naturally occurring elements, so their use leaves next to no imprint on the environment.
Creating plastic pallets is also far more sustainable than creating wood pallets. After cutting down the trees needed for lumber, the lumber still needs to be turned into wooden pallets. Raw lumber has to be treated chemically before it can be used for anything, especially for pallets that will be used to transport food or pharmaceutical products. It’s also required for pallets that will be shipped internationally in order to avoid bringing any non-native insects or bacteria to a foreign country. This is damaging to the environment if it is not processed correctly or is disposed of improperly, but it is necessary because wood is not a naturally hypoallergenic or even sanitary product.
Plastic pallets also leave an environmental impact during production, but it doesn’t have to be as high as wooden pallets. The biggest cost in plastic pallet production is energy use. However, energy can come from sustainable sources, like solar or wind, which leave a much smaller environmental impact during creation.
Wood pallets are cheaper upfront than plastic options. This is quickly offset by wooden pallets’ lack of durability. Wooden pallets last, on average, six trips. This number may be lower if the pallets break during transport and cannot be reused even these few times. This means that companies have to constantly restock their pallet supply, spending more money and continuing to contribute to lumber production and chemical treatments.
Conversely, plastic pallets are far more durable. They last as many as 250 trips before being dangerous or otherwise unusable. Even pallets that are at the lowest end of this will last longer than wooden pallets. This means you don’t have to restock often, and you are able to get the most out of your pallets over a much longer time period. This also helps offset the upfront cost of plastic pallets, which ranges from $7 at the absolute cheapest to around $150 for the heaviest duty options. Plastic pallet’s longevity makes them a better choice for the environment, not to mention your wallet.
Another way plastic pallets are the more environmentally friendly option is in shipping. Any method your company uses to ship products produces CO2 emissions, which are a huge contributing factor to environmental issues. However, because wooden pallets are heavier than plastic alternatives—clocking in between 30 and 70 pounds depending on wood type and style—your company is forced to ship less product per shipment. This means that you end up making more shipments, which produce more CO2 emissions.
Plastic pallets, on the other hand, weigh as little as 3-15 pounds for the most lightweight models, and heavier models only weigh about 30 pounds. Because of this, the bulk of your shipment’s weight comes from the product, not the pallet. Your company is able to make the best use of each shipment because the pallet weight doesn’t affect the overall total very much. So, you’re able to cut down on shipments and then on CO2 emissions.
While wood pallets are biodegradable, the rate at which a company goes through them makes the benefits seem less impressive. It varies by location, temperature, and immediate environment, but unlacquered wood, like wood pallets, take around thirteen years to completely decompose. This is seen especially in landfills, where conditions actively work against decomposition. The wood doesn’t have prolonged exposure to sunlight and weather conditions or decomposing agents such as fungi or bacteria. This is unfortunate, as the number could be lower in the right conditions, but wooden pallets are almost always disposed of in this way and left to slowly rot until they are absorbed back into the earth.
Plastic pallets, comparatively, are recyclable. Once they are no longer fit for use, whether due to a break or simple wear and tear, they can be sent to a participating plant and melted down to be turned into something new. In addition to a more environmentally friendly way to dispose of them, plastic pallets can be purchased after being made of recycled materials. Old plastic pallets can be made into other products as well, so the plastic is being reused and disposed of in an environmentally safe and friendly manner.
Plastic pallets are a more sustainable shipping option than wooden pallets. As shipping continues to be a dominating force in both local and international markets, looking for ways to help the earth while making a profit is important. If you have any questions about plastic pallets and how to begin integrating them into your business, feel free to contact us. We would love to work with you to find the right plastic pallets for your needs.