Are Plastic Pallets Really Kind To The Environment?

Our quest for more environmentally sustainable living has led us to look for ‘cleaner’ energy sources, better manufacturing processes, ways to curb waste, reduce utility bills and our carbon footprint.

Regardless of your business or industry, your actions have an impact on the environment in one way or the other.

Warehousing has it’s fair share of recommended ‘best practices’, but sometimes we still get it wrong.

In the last quarter of the year, the warehousing industry and pallets, in particular, were in the news for causing the illness of a worker at an Amazon-owned warehouse. The consensus was that the illness was linked to insects carried on the packaging on goods imported into the UK. This became yet another reason to minimise their use.

Wooden pallets don’t harbour only insects; mould and bacteria are also transported in the moist environment of the wood. Industry regulations state that any wood used for pallets must be kiln dried to make them less susceptible to mould growth, but this isn’t always the case. With many distribution centres still using a lot of wooden pallets, changing the old ways may be tough.

Plastic pallets have been touted as the next best thing, but are they really? While easy to clean, easy to stack and less prone to cause injury, how environmentally friendly are plastic pallets?

Let’s briefly examine their life cycle:

1. Manufacturing plastic pallets is through a process of cracking, fluffing and extruding oil, a non-renewable resource. Each of these manufacturing processes creates carbon emissions. Distribution using trucks also contributes to higher CO emissions. You can argue that the manufacturing process for wooden pallets is more environmentally friendly than that of plastic pallets.

2. The deterioration of wood due to constant exposure to the elements, makes its lifespan finite, usually under seven months; and that’s with a bunch of repairs. Plastic pallets are more durable and less prone to weather damage. This guarantees their longevity while also contributing less waste to the landfill. Even with wooden pallet’s ability to be repaired over and over again, plastic pallets trump them for being able to be used for up to 25 years, barring serious damage.

3. All wooden and plastic pallets will eventually need to be replaced. How they are disposed of can also have an impact on the environment. Most wooden pallets are biodegradable and will break down without any lasting effects on the environment. Plastic ones can also be recycled by melting and remoulding. However, this is a very energy intensive option, requiring industrial machinery.

It’s looking like plastic pallets are not the green champion they have been touted to be. In the end, the decision is up to you. If plastic pallets are within your budget, you should invest in them. Desired sustainability levels and reduced operating costs can be achieved by incorporating some of the following practices into your business, e.g.

  • Eliminating dead mileage by using freight exchanges. These help to reduce the amount of miles your fleet travels without a load.
  • Invest in quality used pallet racking. Buying new racking can get expensive quickly. Refurbished racking gets the job done at half the cost.
  • Constant employee training and awareness on the importance of the 3 R’s (reduce, reuse and recycle).
  • An investment in the use of lower emission vehicles on the roads, the use of more electric forklifts in the warehouse, even solar panels in the warehouse.

Plastic pallets may not be as ‘green’ as they are touted to be, but by considering it as one of many possible changes, you can steer your company in a more sustainable direction. Monarch Shelving is a trusted supplier of used and refurbished pallet racking. Contact us today for a custom order that will not break the bank.