Wood vs. Plastic Pallets

Pallets can be built in virtually any size and from a variety of materials, including wood, plastic, steel, aluminum, cardboard, and composite hybrids. Wood has always been the most common material used for pallets in the United States due to its durability, cost-effectiveness, ability to be repaired, and minimal consumption of natural resources. It is a common misconception that the use of wood pallets results in deforestation. Although new wood pallets (used primarily for non-standard sizes) are made from virgin lumber, trees are rarely cut down to make pallets. Instead, trees are cut down to produce more valuable items such as building materials and furniture. New wood pallets are built from the downfall (unattractive lumber) that is left over from this process, which is typically discarded if not made into pallets3. The majority of reusable wood stringer pallets in circulation are recycled pallets (used pallets that have been repaired using lumber acquired from irreparable pallets), reducing their cost in addition to their environmental impact.

Recently, plastic pallets (made from high-density polyethylene or HDPE), have become more prevalent, though plastic pallets are still used in less than 10% of applications, including internal pools4. The production of a common 48x40 plastic pallet consumes eight times more raw material than a comparable reusable wood pallet. In addition, the manufacturing process used to make plastic pallets consumes five times more energy, releases more emissions into our air and water, and contributes more waste than reusable wood pallets5.

Sources
1) Pallet Enterprise, Dec. 2006
2) "Wood, Plastic and Corrugated Packaging Materials: A Case for
Wooden Pallets" by Charles D. Ray, Ph.D.& Judd Michael, Ph.D.
Researchers Scientific Management Solutions, May 2007
3) National Solid Waste Management Association
4) Materials Handling Management
5) "How green are your pallets?"; DC Velocity, Nov. 2008
6) www.epa.gov/epawaste/conserve/rrr/reduce.htm

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