Are Wooden Shipping Pallets Sustainable? 

October 25, 2021
Are Wooden Shipping Pallets Sustainable?

New viewpoints suggest that the continued use of wooden pallets may not be as sustainable as you think; eco-science has more viable ideas for our future. Let’s look at the pros and cons of some options to the miles of plastic wrap, acres of styrofoam, and forests of wooden pallets.


Wooden pallets and their alternatives.

The original word pallet was derived from the Anglo-French word Paillet, meaning a simple bed or mattress of straw. If eco-friendly scientists keep their lab work on their grow-your-own path, the world may get closer to an alternative organic composition. Pallets are used in every transport truck, shipping container, and warehouse. Every stack of a manufactured product is more easily moved about, thanks to the ingenious design of the pallet.

Messenger Freight Systems has a professional computerized, storage and inventory system with plenty of room for all of your warehousing requirements.  Call our St Thomas location below and we will happily answer any questions you might have. With two main rail lines located in our warehouse, we are uniquely qualified as transportation specialists.

But first, a few wooden pallet facts:

  • According to Sustainable Procurements in Manitoba, more than 2 billion wood pallets are in circulation in the US alone. For the most part, they are not recycled; instead, “they are thrown away and replaced with new ones, consuming more than 50% of the country’s hardwood harvest (citation: Environmental Leader, April 2012).”
  • The chemicals employed against wooden pallets to kill insects make them toxic to the environment. 

De-forestation facts: 

  • A National Geographic article ‘Climate 101: Deforestation explains, “from the time humans have been cutting down trees, 46% of the world’s trees have been felled, and the speed of the ongoing deforestation is increasing.” The World Wildlife Federation knows forests absorb carbon dioxide and decrease greenhouse gasses, that in contrast, the act of deforestation puts CO2 back into our climate. “Forests provide food and shelter for so much of life on Earth – from fungi and insects to tigers and elephants.”


Alternatives to wooden pallets.


Recycled plastic pallets

Pros: 

  • Manufacturers use any recycled thermoplastic plastic in the making of recycled plastic pallets. If you spot a plastic pallet, it’s probably a recycled pallet, and they, too, are recyclable.
  • They’re lighter than wood, saving shipping weight and shipping costs.
  • A plastic pallet will accept weights up to 1,270 Kg (2,800 lbs).
  • Recycled plastic pallets are impact and chemical resistant, and hygienic.
  • Plastic pallets are rentable in many cities, so they promote an industry that provides employment. 

Cons:

  • Their slippery surface presents a degree of instability when loading products.
  • Like all eco-friendly alternatives, a higher cost is involved; recycled plastic pallets are around three times more expensive than wooden pallets.

Lab-grown wood using 3D printing

Pros:

  • 100% organically derived, plant cells are grown in a 100% natural sluice.
  • 100% recyclable. 
  • This alternative provides a future reduction of forestry transport needs and a future end to deforestation.

Cons: 


Engineered plywood pallets

Pros:

  • Engineered wood is a hybrid product that lasts much longer than 100% wood due to a thick polyurea coating.

Cons:


Corrugated cardboard pallets of industrial-strength on a wood skeleton

Pros: 

  • 100% recyclable.
  • Designed for one-way use, they come flat packed, so they are space-saving and lightweight for shipping.
  • They are specially designed to withstand up to 1,100 Kg (2,500 lbs).

Cons:

  • A manufacturing model that still uses wood. 
    • Warehouse employees must assemble the pallets.

Biodegradable resin-coated banana fibre blocks attached to a wood skeleton

Pros:

  • Designed and built locally for the banana and pineapple producers.
  • Lessens deforestation by using readily available and sustainable banana fibre.
  • The banana fibre block industry provides further employment for economically challenged areas. 
  • Banana-block hybrid pallets reduce carbon emissions by 22 – 50% – S. Pearson Specter – Seven Alternative Pallets for a greener operation.



Alternatives to Styrofoam Packaging.

Like other lightweight polystyrenes such as dental floss and straws, styrofoam is cruel to our wildlife, who mistake it for food floating in the water. It is almost entirely non-biodegradable, only breaking into smaller bits over hundreds and hundreds of years. 30% of our landfills are taken up with styrofoam products, and its lightweight consistency means it easily finds its way into nature. Polystyrenes’ use extends to the billions of food containers we regularly use one time and throw away. Companies in Brantford, Montreal, and Sarnia are invested in the recycling of polystyrenes.



Fungus-based material 

Pros:

  • It is made from mycelium, a plant-based material manufactured to take on numerous shapes for ease of packaging.
  • 100% organic and recyclable.


Recycled Styrofoam

Pros:


Wheat and Cornstarch Packing Peanuts

Pros: It is 100% organic and compostable.




Alternatives to Shrinkwrap for Pallets.

Miles and spools of plastic wrap increase in bulk by the time it’s thrown away which takes up acres of space in landfills. The manufacturing of shrinkwrap emits CO2s, uses barrels of oil products, and leaves a trail of chemicals and waste. Many companies manufacture biodegradable plastic wrap; however, it is crucial to know that biodegradable and compostable do not mean the same thing. Biodegradable means the plastic breaks down into tiny pieces (and does not disappear) only if given the high temperatures found in industrial composting facilities. Even compostable plastics require an environment that is rich in compost for them to break down.  – J. Robbins – Why Bioplastics will not solve the worlds plastics problem.



Biodegradable shrinkwrap

Cons:

  • These bioplastics are plant-based but are not organic because the sugars used during manufacture are from transgenic crops sprayed with herbicides and pesticides, negating their environmental value and releasing these chemicals back into the environment.
  • If precise high temperature and oxygen-rich conditions are not met like those in high-temperature industrial composting facilities, biodegradable plastic releases methane making them an environmentally harmful choice.
  • The manufacturing process includes using chemicals and transgenic crops.


Reusable vinyl pallet wraps with toggle closure 

Pros:

  • A mesh or opaque vinyl sheet secures a pallet much quicker than shrinkwrapping a pallet.
  • These wraps are reusable, which translates to 5 times the cost savings of shrinkwrap.
  • Vinyl is more substantial than shrinkwrap.

Cons:

  • Vinyl is a plastic derivative fabric
  • Like all eco-friendly alternatives, vinyl pallet wraps are produced with a higher cost involved.


Reusable lids and ratchet straps

Pros: 

  • It consists of a hard plastic lid with four pull-downs and a retractable ratchet strap that secures a pallet much quicker than shrinkwrapping it.
  • They are reusable and cost-effective in the long run.

Cons: 

  • This system is bulky and requires storage space.
  • Like all eco-friendly alternatives, plastic lids and ratchet straps are produced with a higher cost involved.


Reusable rubber pallet bands

Pros:

  • These rubber bands are quick and easy to install and usually require only one band for the top row of products.
  • The bands are long-lasting. 

Cons:

  • The bands can easily get lost.


Pallet Adhesive

Pros: 

  • These are biodegradable glues.

Cons:

  • An application tool is required to use the glue.


We hope you’ve been buoyed to learn there are options available to you and that industries of high environmental harm are looking to ways that will result in minimal damage to our environment. If you must use these items; pallets, styrofoam, or shrinkwrap, make recycling a goal for your business. Locate a recycling firm that will take your unsustainable products.




Please call us at Messenger Freight Systems for any of your shipping requirements. Use our online contact form or call us at either location:

150 Denis Rd, St. Thomas, Ontario (519) 631 9604

690 Fountain St. N., Cambridge, Ontario (519) 623 9604