With more than 1.2 billion pallets in use in the U.S. every day, and an estimated 90% of our manufactured goods moved in a unit load format on a pallet, the often overlooked pallet is a key component in the product distribution system. The pallet provides an efficient and economic means to transport and store our products as they move from the manufacturing line to the end consumer. But it doesn’t stop with store-door delivery…300 million pallets are recovered by pallet recyclers each year! Everything that is manufactured is shipped in some type of package, and perhaps surprisingly, packaging is the third-largest industry in the U.S. and the world. And all those packages are packed onto a pallet for delivery. Whether wood, plastic, metal or paper-based, all pallets are designed and manufactured to protect, transport and store our goods. The right design is the key to producing a cost-effective—and therefore sustainable—pallet. The right design is based on the product being carried and the storage and transportation system to be employed. This process often requires a specific pallet design for each product. The wood pallet continues to dominate the market with approximately 90% of the 450 million new pallets made each year being wood-based. Most wooden pallets are made of low-grade lumber that remains after the higher-quality building and furniture boards are removed from the log. Many sizes. The most common size pallet is the 48×40-inch retail pallet, also referred to as the GMA pallet (for the Grocery Manufacturers Association). GMA pallets account for approximately 30% of new manufacturing each year. Despite this dominant size, more than 50% of the pallet market is made of sizes that account for less than 1% of the total market. These varieties of sizes are designed for the specific load they are to carry. This size issue makes the used pallet market very difficult to manage. Pallet Recycling. However, the pallet recycling market has had tremendous growth in the last 10 years. This recycling market is divided in several sections—pooling, reuse, repair and remanufacture. Reuse: Returned to service as is Repair: Component replacement or repair Remanufactured: New pallet manufactured from used pallet parts Pooled Pallets. CHEP Pallets are an example of a pooled pallet. CHEP is an international company dealing in pallet and container pooling services. Each CHEP pallet (painted blue) is owned by CHEP and leased to the user. After it is used, it is collected, inspected and repaired if necessary before returning to the next user. Used 48×40-inch pallets are also collected by a variety of pallet companies that then repair and resell the pallet to the next user. Remanufacturing occurs when a used pallet is dismantled and the individual components are used to construct a pallet often of a different size than the original. Approximately 250 million remanufactured pallets are made every year. Broken components and pallets that are removed from service are rarely put in landfills. These components, upward of 375,000 tons of wood fiber material, are ground and used as mulch, animal bedding and wood pellets for fuel. SUMMARY: Pallets are often viewed as a necessary evil. However, the lowly pallet has enabled our product distribution to evolve from individually handled packages to a highly mechanized and efficient transportation system. This has occurred in the last 70 years when the pallet and forklift first made their appearance just before World War II. Our economic system could not function without this simple but highly engineered device. As more focus is placed on sustainability, remember the pallet. The proper design and use of the pallet will protect our valuable goods, thus supporting true sustainability—the balance between environment, cost and performance.
Ralph Rupert, Manager Unit Load Technology, Millwood, Inc. rrupert@millwoodinc.com 330.400.8581