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Rack Recycling: A Welcome Addition To the Booming e-commerce World

An audit can determine if existing racks can meet inventory needs and whether or not they comply with current safety codes.

By: Daniel Aguirre, Contributor

It’s a known fact: e-commerce has dramatically changed the way we do business and the way we live. And it was never more evident in the last few years with the onslaught of the pandemic, which forced consumers to stay home, shop online and impatiently wait for their products to be delivered right to their doorsteps as quickly as possible.

From our perspective as a rack manufacturer and full warehouse solutions provider, this new consumer dynamic has also forced our customers – the growing number of warehouses and distribution centers – to take a long and hard look at the way they operate and how they handle inventory.

Specifically, they must ask themselves: Can our existing rack configurations, some that may be 30 years old or more, stand up to the increased inventory and heavier product loads? Do they meet up-to-date safety codes from local, state and federal regulators? And how much damage have they incurred over the course of time?

For answers, our current and prospective customers come to us to determine whether to upgrade their existing racks or to completely overhaul their storage rack infrastructure. After a thorough audit (either by companies like ours or third-party inspectors) to determine the structural integrity of the old racks, the decisions are made based on a variety of factors, including safety, environmental and economic.

Based on customers’ needs to meet the demands of today’s e-commerce trends, most decide to modernize their warehouses, distribution centers and big box stores by taking the least costly, most efficient and more sustainable route – rack recycling.

According to the latest research by leading market research organizations Market Research Futures and Allied Market Research, steel recycling offers the following benefits:

  • It generates more than $100 billion in revenues for the U.S. economy while employing more than 500,000 people.
  • It is a pivotal player in environmental protection, resource conservation and sustainability. Manufacturing products with recycled steel, i.e.: racking systems, results in significant energy savings compared with the use of virgin materials, thereby reducing greenhouse gas emissions and making energy available for other purposes.
  • Steel recycling, which is being implemented globally at a rate of 60%, reduces the negative effects of mining and steel production. It saves an enormous amount of energy and water, and the mining of iron ore is not necessary.
  • It avoids nearly 950 million tons of CO2 emissions, one billion tons of iron ore and the energy equivalent to burning about 280 million tons of coal.
  • And it allows for what is called “closed loop production” – a material eco-system where no materials are wasted in the steelmaking process.

When it comes to industrial storage systems, steel is the best material when manufacturing pallet racks for its strength, resistance, plasticity and versatility. No other material manages to match the contribution to the industrial and technological development of societies like steel.

According to the World Steel Association, there are more than 3,500 different grades of steel different physical, chemical and environmental properties. Depending on the metals used, including manganese, chromium, nickel, silicon and others, the combination of elements will determine the end products’ hardness, corrosion resistance and durability. All these considerations are important when safety and durability are the key factors of ensuring the selected rack will withstand the rigors of the warehouse.

From the customers’ perspective, many existing warehouses are faced with replacing their old or existing racks to ensure that their storage systems will comply with codes, increase safety within the warehouse and be constructed with the latest technological advances and processes available, giving them the sustainability they’ll need in the years ahead.

By offering every step in the process of recycling rack, solution providers can offer end-users new and innovative ways to align their sustainability goals from a single source. Today’s industry innovators can manage each step of the rack recycling process including dismantling the existing rack, melting down the steel to reclaim the material, re-engineer and manufacture the steel into a better rack and then reinstall it to meet and exceed building codes.

Once the customers are fully aware of these benefits, they are ready to transform their facilities. The old or existing racks are removed and sent to the manufacturers’ recycling centers where they are melted down and reformed into either sheet, coiled or tubular formats. The next step involves moving the new steel products to facilities where the new recycled rack systems are made to the customers’ specifications. The result is that they are more durable and protected against corrosion, extreme environmental conditions and even seismic activity.

Overall, there is a lot more attention on steel rack recycling by the industry today as e-commerce rapidly expands and consumers demand faster, often same-day, more accurate deliveries of their products. As more and more companies are investing in high-demand, highly responsive and massive distribution centers, and company goals reach toward sustainability in all areas, recycling rack becomes the only solution that makes sense. WMHS

Daniel Aguirre is Manager of Distribution Sales for Nucor Warehouse Systems (formerly Hannibal Industries), one of the largest pallet rack manufacturers in North America and a national warehouse integration specialist with operations in Los Angeles, Houston and Georgia (

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