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iGPS throws down gauntlet for wooden pallet industry 22217

A feud pitting plastics vs. wood continues to brew between two of the world’s largest pallet pools. The controversy matches Intelligent Global Pooling Systems (iGPS Co. LLC), operator of the world’s first all-plastic pallet rental service with embedded RFID (radio frequency identification) tags, against CHEP, the Goliath of the pallet business, with wooden pallets its primary product.

Clare Goldsberry

September 23, 2009

5 Min Read
iGPS throws down gauntlet for wooden pallet industry

CHEP issues, collects, repairs/washes, and reissues more than 250 million pallets and containers annually from a global network of service centers. CHEP also has in its corner the National Wooden Pallet & Container Assn. (NWPCA). The smaller iGPS only has some 7 million to 8 million of its pallets in circulation, but it claims this controversy is a one-sided affair, with wooden pallets’ supporters heading towards defeat.
“Desperate to thwart the growing use of iGPS pallets by leading companies in food and other industries, unscrupulous members of the wood pallet monopoly, including CHEP, are purposefully disseminating false information about iGPS’s all-plastic pallets,” said Bob Moore, CEO of iGPS. “In their effort to defend antiquated, dangerous, and flammable wood pallets, they scurrilously have attacked the fire retardant in our pallets, deca-bromine—one of the most effective, widely used, and extensively tested fire retardants available.”
iGPS has challenged CHEP and the NWPCA to a side-by-side, independent and random comparison of typical wood pallets with iGPS’s all-plastic pallet, and also in late July called for fire safety testing for all pallets. “For too long, the industry has turned a blind eye to what everyone knows: Wood pallets do not pass the very same fire safety tests that pallets of other materials must pass, leaving lives and property at risk,” Moore said. He stated that dated fire tests for wooden pallets assume these still are made of hardwoods, which generally no longer is the case. There is no mincing of words in this dispute, with Moore adding, “We call upon the NWPCA to put people’s safety above its partisan interests and to reassure the public by beginning independent testing for all types of wood pallets.”

There is history here as Moore was, for seven years, the CEO of CHEP before forming iGPS. iGPS has twice challenged CHEP to cosponsor an independent comparison of the companies’ respective products, examining every aspect of the pallets, including fire safety, food safety, worker safety, environmental impact, and operational performance, said Moore, noting, “We are confident the outcome of this comparison will confirm the results of independent studies and the experience of leading companies that continue to switch to iGPS.”

For many weeks this spring, the NWPCA’s website had highlighted on its homepage information warning companies not to use plastic pallets containing the flame-retardant additive decabromodiphenyl ether (deca-bromine) for use in “hydrocooling,” a process used to cool fruits and vegetables immediately after harvest to preserve their freshness and lengthen shelf life. The NWPCA site cited an excerpt from a letter written by the consumer safety officer at the Food & Drug Administration (FDA), posted on the Refrigerated & Frozen Foods website that warned, “if precooling solution is recycled and/or there is vertical racking of the dripping precooled pallets, there is the possibility that decabromodiphenyl ether (also called deca-bromine) may become a component of the product. . . .”
Deca-bromine is not authorized as a food additive. Recently, though, the excerpt and all other reference to deca-bromine or hydrocooling have been removed from the website. Before the website was scraped of these references, MPW spoke to Bruce Scholnick, NWPCA president, who said that the iGPS pallets “use 3.4 lb of deca-bromine” in each pallet and that “as pallets are scuffed along the ground or the product itself rubs against the bottom of the top deck, it creates a certain amount of toxic dust, 8% of which is deca-bromine.” Moore counters there are only a “few ounces” of deca-bromine in the compound used for each pallet. iGPS also is eyeing developments in halogen-free fire retardants.

Moore stated that the document published by the NWPCA on its website (and now removed) was misleading because it did not publish the entire letter from Sanchez-Furukawa, the FDA authority cited by the NWPCA. “Were NWPCA to read the entire FDA letter, it would find that its understanding is entirely inaccurate and misleading,” Moore said. “A simple reading of the FDA letter reveals it does not apply to iGPS’s pallets. Further, a quick review of readily available science reveals that the solubility of deca-bromine (less than 0.1 ppb) is so infinitesimal that it falls substantially lower than the levels the FDA cites in its letter as relevant.”
Plastic pallets are growing more popular in industry. Peter Feamster, president of Peter Feamster & Assoc. Inc. (Chesterfield, MI), is a recycler of plastic pallets and containers used by automotive OEMs, managing their programs for reuse/recycling. He says large automotive OEMs use plastic pallets almost exclusively because they are safer on a production floor than wooden pallets. Plus, the vacuum-formed, single-sheet pallets weigh about 20 lb, and the twin-sheet formed pallets weigh about 32 lb.
For shipments overseas, Feamster says his clients also prefer plastic. “If they have a hot load that needs to get to a plant in China, for example, they’ve had problems with wooden pallets being quarantined in a containment area for 60 days to ensure that nothing came in with the wood that would cause an environmental issue,” he explains. “Plastic pallets don’t have those problems.”

Moore reckons the deca-bromine issue is a “last-ditch effort” by the forestry-products industry to save a dying industry. “Wood just isn’t working in today’s [shipping] environment,” he says. “It’s outlived its usefulness.” —Clare Goldsberry

About the Author(s)

Clare Goldsberry

Until she retired in September 2021, Clare Goldsberry reported on the plastics industry for more than 30 years. In addition to the 10,000+ articles she has written, by her own estimation, she is the author of several books, including The Business of Injection Molding: How to succeed as a custom molder and Purchasing Injection Molds: A buyers guide. Goldsberry is a member of the Plastics Pioneers Association. She reflected on her long career in "Time to Say Good-Bye."

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