Traditionally, companies have transported goods using timber pallets. Timber pallets have been very cheap and easy to produce the world over, which has led to their dominant market share. However, 'cheap and easy' for the companies has come at a cost to the environment.
First, timber pallets are fragile and regularly need replacing. This leads to two problems: There is a demand to build more pallets to replace the losses, and the wood left over from the damaged pallets has very little use for recycling, so it often ends up getting burned.
Second, timber pallets are relatively heavy, so when multiplied on large shipments of goods, they can considerably add to the fuel needed to transport those goods.
It is partly for these environmental reasons that developments were made into alternate materials to create pallets. The obvious choice was plastic, and it has a number of environmental advantages over its timber counterparts. Plastic pallets are more durable and longer lasting. This means that they do not need to be produced in the huge volumes required of wooden pallets.
Also, plastic pallets, once damaged, can easily be recycled to create new pallets. Finally, plastic pallets are generally lighter than timber pallets, and so their combined weight when transporting large numbers of goods means that less fuel is required.
So, despite the belief in the sustainability of natural materials like timber, the use of plastics in the pallet industry could prove to be a smarter move, but there is another area that companies can help decrease their environmental impact even more. That is for companies to use a pallet pooling service, rather than running their own fleet of pallets.
Traditionally companies have bought and owned their own pallet fleets, which leads to its own environmental problems; this model of ownership means that more and more pallets need to be produced so each company can have its own fleet. It can also often lead to an over production of pallets as a company may not need to use its full fleet throughout the year.
This problem has led to the development of pallet pooling companies. These services rent out pallets on a long- or short-term basis to companies involved with transporting goods. This leads to a much more efficient use of a finite number of pallets, compared to each company expanding its own stocks.
So, although it is only a small contribution to the environmental as a whole, how companies think about their pallets and how they use them can help cut the overall impact that the transportation industry has on the planet as a whole. It also can make significant financial sense.
(Ed. Note: Information provided by pallet pooling specialists PPS Equipment.)