Environmental & Economic Benefits of Eco-Friendly Pallets

By Daniel Kelly, Contributor

The Side Step Pallet System (open) was specifically designed for a leading global beverage manufacturer. (photo courtesy Polymer Solutions International Inc.)

The global packaging market is expected to post a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) close to 6 % by 2023, Packaging allows marketing and product differentiation, and it educates and informs the consumer. At the same time, the procurement, production, transport and disposal of packaging can have negative consequences for both the environment and societies around the globe.

The goal is to be a zero-emissions planet by 2050. But, to reach that goal, everyone will have to do their part. Consumers are changing the way they make purchasing decisions. People are more willing to spend money on a business if it makes it a point to improve its carbon footprint and become more sustainable. This is especially true for Millennials. According to a Nielsen study, while 66% of global consumers are willing to pay more for sustainable goods, a full 73% of Millennials are.”

Creating economically viable, closed-loop systems for the recovery of packaging materials is an essential characteristic for sustainable materials management. However, sustainability is about more than just incorporating reusable materials. It’s about considering the full impact of a product over the course of its lifespan. This includes human factors, as well as environmental. Environmental sustainability means using fewer resources; wasting less of the resources you do use; and looking for ways to reuse materials that have been expended—which ultimately improves your bottom line.

Amazon, for instance, is at the forefront of this mission to optimize the overall customer experience by collaborating with manufacturers worldwide to invent sustainable packaging that delights customers, eliminates waste and ensures products arrive intact and undamaged.

Why Care About Sustainability?

In the U.S. alone, there are approximately 2 billion pallets in circulation, and the vast majority of these are made of wood. The lifecycle of these pallets isn’t long, and a great deal of wood is consumed during repair and maintenance. Aside from the environmental issues associated with wood pallets, the supply chain isn’t getting a very efficient product. Reusable wood pallets are prone to splintering, breaking, protruding nails and causing damage to product, employees and warehouse equipment.

To combat these issues while driving sustainability gains and reducing costs, many companies across a wide range of industries have turned to reusable plastic pallets as a solution. Reusable plastic pallets can have a lifespan in excess of five years. This eliminates the cost and environmental impact of repair and greatly reduces the need for replacement.

Furthering the sustainability gains, in most cases, once a plastic pallet has reached the end of its useable life, the material can be recycled into new plastic products. Further, reusable plastic pallets eliminate splintering and damage, and injuries due to exposed nails. Using the right reusable plastic pallet can also help to greatly increase the efficiency and productivity of a manufacturing or warehousing operation.

Industries Using Eco-Friendly Pallets

The Side Step Pallet System (closed) was specifically designed for a leading global beverage manufacturer. (photo courtesy Polymer Solutions International Inc.)

Reusable pallets can be used in many different industries. The food and beverage industry requires pallets that are easy to sanitize and available with antimicrobial additives in order to greatly reduce the risk of contamination. Also, rigid plastic pallets provide superior protection against damage that can ruin the appearance of fruits and vegetables, breads and other products. Because they are dimensionally stable and resist breakage across a wide range temperatures and environmental conditions, plastic pallets can be used in everything from direct sunlight to refrigerated storage containers.

Eco-friendly, reusable plastic pallets are also the perfect answer to some of the pharmaceutical industry’s biggest challenges. These pallets allow for easy sanitizing; are chemically inactive; and greatly reduce the possibility of contaminating the products stored on them. Easy-to-handle and chemically inert, they reduce the risks associated with long-term storage and shipping of delicate medications and other products. Unlike wood pallets, they don’t give off dust, or harbor fungus or insects that can ruin a shipment. Because they’re designed to be used over and over again, your operation produces less waste and reduces overhead costs.

Retail stores also need pallets they can depend on to be hygienic, durable and reliable. Lighter-duty, reusable plastic pallets are an ideal choice for general use in these environments, as they balance affordability with exceptionally high quality. For a complete material handling solution, some plastic pallets even offer integrated RFID tags—making it easier to track and monitor inventories in complex retail operations.

It is important to use products that have been engineered to provide superior safety and hygiene. Older, flame-retardant plastic pallets, for example, used halogen-based chemicals, such as decabromodiphenyl ether (deca-BDE), to provide protection. Over the past decade, a mounting body of scientific evidence has pointed to significant health problems associated with long-term exposure to deca-BDE. For this reason, many states and industries have begun to phase out the use of deca-BDE in certain products. Even if you’re not legally required to, choosing to use non-deca-BDE plastic pallets keeps workers safe and positions you for future regulatory compliance, should anything change.

More Durable Solution, Improved Bottom Line

Reusable plastic pallets are also much more durable, as they are capable of making 75-100 trips through the supply chain, compared to wood pallets that need repair after only a few trips. This increased durability alone helps to create a more sustainable supply chain by reducing the chances of equipment and product damage and reducing the amount of energy that is wasted moving products that can’t be sold. It also eliminates the need to constantly ship damaged pallets to a depot for repairs, thus saving fuel.

These are not the only sustainable supply chain advantages provided by eco-friendly plastic pallets. A reusable plastic pallet may be much lighter than a reusable wood pallet—at less than 50lbs compared to 70-80lbs for a typical pooled wood pallet. This weight never changes, given that plastic is not an absorbent material. The consistently lighter load means reduced fuel consumption, resulting in lower carbon dioxide emissions and less money spent on transport.

Sustainable supply chain management is an important environmental consideration, but it is an economic one, as well. In a competitive economy, businesses in all industries are running leaner, more cost-effective operations. Using products that make the most of raw materials is good for business and for the planet.

About the Author
Dan Kelly is the Founder/CEO of Polymer Solutions International Inc. His experience consists of over 35 years in returnable packaging, recycling and injection-molding. PSI has a global presence with customers in 110+ countries, providing sustainable and reusable packaging solutions.