pile of pallet wood scraps ready for recycling

How Wood Pallets are Recycled into New Products

Wood pallets are highly sustainable, in part because of their high rate of recyclability. According to the latest research available, 508 million wood pallets are produced annually in the U.S. each year, while only 25 million of them end up in landfills, down from 178.5 million in 1998.

Old wood pallet material is utilized in many creative ways. With a laudable recycling rate of 95%, most end-of-life wood pallets are processed to create other products. Recovered lumber is used for pallet repair or re-manufactured pallet components as well as other purposes, while unusable lumber is reduced to fiber for many applications.

This approach improves the economics as well as the sustainability of pallet recycling. Recovered wood is much less expensive than virgin material, and as such, it provides cost advantages versus new components both for repair as well as pallet re-manufacturing.

There are also sustainability advantages associated with this practice, known as “cascading use”. Cascading use refers to the method of recovering material for the next most valuable alternative – such as pallet boards, and eventually, fiber. This approach reduces the carbon footprint impact at each stage of use thanks to recycled material availability, which is much less carbon-intensive to produce than virgin fiber alternatives.

Here is what happens to end-of-life pallets:

Recovered pallet repair components

When pallets are too severely damaged to repair, or they are not a popular size, pallet recyclers typically dismantle them using a bandsaw dismantler. Broken components are sent to the grinder, while pallet recyclers use intact pallet boards or stringers to repair other pallets.

Recovered components used to build combo or re-manufactured pallets

Recyclers also use intact recovered pallet components in the assembly of combo or re-manufactured pallets. The variability of sizing in recovered pallet boards and stringers makes them more challenging to work with than new material. Increasingly, the pallet industry is turning to automated nailing systems as well as lumber sizing and sorting machinery to enhance the efficiency of re-manufacturing.

Recovered solid wood used for upcycling crafts or architectural projects

Old pallets have become extremely popular for upcycling arts and crafts projects, as well as pallet art. Architectural trends such as industrial chic embrace the look of weathered pallet wood material. As a result, some pallet recyclers are also now selling recovered pallet lumber to home builders for installations such as feature walls.

Fiber used to manufacture new products

Where nearby manufacturing plants exist, fiber can be utilized in wood composite products such as particleboard and fiberboard sheets for construction, and as filler in absorbent socks for spill containment. Wood fiber is also used in material handling products such as wood composite pallet blocks, molded wood plugs and pallets.

Fiber for mulch, bedding, and soil amendments

Popular applications for recycled fiber including colored landscaping mulch as well as animal bedding and soil amendments. A soil amendment is when wood fiber is added to soil to improve its water retention, permeability, water infiltration, drainage, and aeration. The goal of a soil amendment is to create a better environment for roots to take hold within the soil.

Fiber for biomass

Wood fiber is used as boiler fuel as well as in other applications to generate energy. Aside from bulk fiber, wood fiber can also be compressed or densified into more compact products such as pellets, cubes, briquettes or fire-logs. Densified products have a higher value and are more economical to ship a greater distance.

Fiber for emerging applications

Ongoing research continues to uncover new applications for wood fiber, while other markets are anticipated to grow. Fiber applications expected to play a larger role in the future include biochar, a soil amendment utilizing charcoal, and cross-laminated timber (CLT). CLT involves the usage of smaller pieces of wood to manufacture larger panels.

The discussion above illustrates how pallet recycling follows the cascading use principle, utilizing material for its next most valuable use, whether as pallet boards, feature walls, or several fiber products. Such an approach optimizes the economic value of wood while enhancing its sustainability story.

 

Stack of Pallets

Pallet Tracking: Then and Now

Pallet tracking has evolved tremendously over the last 40 years, and it continues to transform with the adoption of new technologies. Before we begin the discussion, let’s review this deceptively ambiguous term and provide some clarification.

What is Wood Pallet Tracking?

Many pallet users talk about pallet tracking in the sense of unit load tracking. They are most concerned with the materials stacked on the pallet and ensuring that those goods reach the consignee as prescribed. In this sense, pallet tracking is a component of inventory management and product quality assurance.

Within the pallet industry, or for pallet users responsible for managing pallets as corporate assets, pallet tracking pertains to the management of the pallet itself. Pallet tracking enables pallet users to track pallet movements to other stakeholders and thereby mitigate the loss of the pallet as an asset.

Pallet tracking can help facilitate pallet return in a returnable pallet system. It can also be used to report customer shipments to a third-party pallet provider, such as a pallet rental company.

At risk of further confusion, some pallet insiders use pallet tracking as a synonym for pallet management. In contrast, others use it in a narrower context, as the shipment and return information that is manually or digitally captured into the pallet management software. For the purposes of this article, we’ll speak about pallet tracking and pallet management interchangeably.

Why is Pallet Tracking Important?

Pallet tracking can help keep reusable pallets on the job versus accumulating excessively at trading partners, becoming lost or otherwise underutilized. When managed effectively, pallets provide a lower cost per trip through repeated reuse, while reducing the need to manufacture new pallets enhances sustainability.

Poor pallet tracking can eventually lead to failed reusable pallet systems and significant financial loss. More importantly, inadequate pallet management can result in shipment disruptions if usable wood pallets are not available during production. Customer dissatisfaction downstream in the supply chain can result from subsequent delayed deliveries or deliveries on inferior quality pallets, so do not underestimate the importance of pallet management.

Wood Pallet Tracking-Then

Pallet tracking is not what it used to be. Back in the early 1980s, before PCs became commonly deployed, keeping track of pallets was a manual and uncelebrated task, often one assigned to a junior employee.

It was a time of ledgers and 3-ring binders used to record the pallet “ins” and “outs” with various trading partners. The pallet documentation used by multiple shippers could be diverse, accumulating each day into an unwieldy stack of papers to be processed. Accurate data entry could require considerable training and experience for the clerk to interpret, depending upon the complexity of the supply chain.

From those records, the pallet manager could initiate the return of pallets owed to various manufacturers, for example, or approve payments for pallets that had arrived under load and that had been invoiced. But it could get complicated. Did the invoiced pallets meet the required specification? Had the carrier taken back exchange pallets? If either of those outcomes took place, the pallet manager might reject the invoice, leading to a dispute.

Especially in the grocery industry, it was a time of generally haphazard pallet management and ongoing issues regarding pallets owed to trading partners and pallet quality. Ultimately, several leading grocery retailers in North America abandoned the pallet exchange model because of such frustrations.

Wood Pallet Tracking-Now

The paper trail and manual entry of 40 years ago gradually evolved to ledgers and databases residing on PCs and ultimately to the cloud. Manual entry evolved to various forms of automated data capture, such as estimating the number of pallets shipped based on the amount required to send a particular number of cases.

Over time we have seen a transition from batch tracking of wood pallets moving through the supply chain (such as a shipment of 30 standard 48×40 wood pallets under load), to now being able to track each wood pallet with a unique identifier.

Unique identification can help provide more precise details regarding pallet repair history or loss. For instance, if pallets are not returned the pallet manager can review their history to see where they were last shipped and identify potential leakage points. Unique ID has been made possible through innovations such as barcode and RFID. More recently, other IoT technologies have continued to improve the accuracy of tracking and provide real-time visibility of pallet locations.

Today’s leading pallet tracking solutions are easy to use. They offer operational, financial, and in some cases, environmental reporting capabilities and dashboards easily customized to meet customer needs. Some systems feature reconciliation features to help quickly identify and resolve discrepancies between trading partners. Some solutions interface with transportation providers to initiate pallet movement requests. Many tracking systems are cloud-based and sync with mobile devices carried by delivery drivers, asset managers, and other personnel working in the supply chain.

As the desire for real-time visibility and data management increases, we are seeing a shift in interest from barcode and RFID (Radio Frequency IDentification) data capture to other solutions such as GPS (Global Positioning Systems), cellular, LPWAN (Low Power-Wide Area Network), BLE (Bluetooth Low Energy). From a pure pallet management perspective, the solution’s cost can still be a barrier to acceptance, depending upon the use case.

For this reason, we see pallet managers taking various approaches to mitigate cost, such as using lower-cost LPWAN or, alternately, tagging only some pallets versus all of them to provide visibility of pallet flows. Even some tagged pallets can help the pallet manager understand where lost pallets are going.

Another option for reducing cost is through employing a hub and spoke strategy, where proximate pallets might communicate through BLE, for example, to a hub pallet that communicates by cellular or GPS to the cloud-based tracking system.

Increased visibility eliminates guesswork and allows supply chain operators to make more informed decisions. The overall value of unit load visibility is a topic for another blog, but in many cases, it will transcend the pallet management use case.

For an increasing amount of reusable pallet programs, that value is anticipated to tip the scales in favor of IoT adoption. Pallet tracking continues to evolve, and it plays an increasingly integrated role in supporting supply chain operations

Recycled wooden block and stringer pallet stacks

Block and Stringer Pallets: What makes them different?

Do you have an unusual material handling application? No problem. Wood pallets can be designed in an infinite variety of ways to meet the unique needs of any supply chain.

Aside from the fact that wood is a highly sustainable choice for pallets, one of its many wonders is also being an extremely versatile material. It is easy to mill, cut to the desired dimensions, and then assemble into a pallet.

Through experience, training, and specialized software such as PDS (Pallet Design System™), pallet professionals can design a pallet to optimize material handling in your supply chain.

While the design opportunities are limitless, however, they are based on the two pallet classes. As described in the Uniform Standard for Pallets, those classes are the block pallet and the stringer pallet. The critical difference between them is the choice of vertical members.

The stringer pallet is the most common pallet class in North America, accounting for around 76% of production. And according to the Peerless Research Group 2018 pallet survey, 54% of respondents mainly used stringer pallets while 18 percent primarily used block pallets. The remainder of respondents (28%) used block and stringer pallets equally. Stringer pallet usage thrives in many supply chains.

Wood Stringer Pallet

Stringer pallets utilize stringers, often nominal 2x4s or 3x4s. The stringers act as support beams. They separate the top and bottom deck boards and run perpendicular to them. Stringers may be solid or be notched to allow entry by forklift tines.

Such pallets are referred to as two-way entry and partial four-way entry, respectively. Two-way pallets may be entered only from the two pallet ends by forklifts or pallet jacks (Class lll electric hand trucks or hand/rider trucks.) Partial four-way entry refers to the fact that while a forklift can enter such a pallet from all four sides, a pallet jack is limited to the two end openings.

Wood Block Pallet

Block pallets, on the other hand, are referred to as having full four-way entry. By utilizing blocks rather than stringers, pallet jacks and forklifts alike can enter on all four sides. Full four-way entry is highly prized in industries that rely on pallet jacks or that work in congested material handling environments.

Four-way functionality allows material handlers to position pallets more easily in tight spaces, enabling them to save time and space. Pinwheeling pallets to get more pallets onto a trailer or accessing pallets on congested loading docks are examples of where block pallets can add considerable value. A 2016 study reported that one Canadian grocery distribution center could benefit from $56,000 per year in warehouse efficiency gains by switching to block pallets.

There is a common misconception that the block pallet is a recent design innovation in North America. They were developed by the U.S. military (both Milton Boone and Norman Cahners independently filed patents in 1943) to deal with congested conditions found in the holds of World War ll warships and at war plants.

In the years after the war, the less complicated and more easily manufactured stringer pallet would prove to find far greater acceptance, although some industries did come to rely on block pallets. In recent decades, block pallet usage increased noticeably after being adopted by leading pallet rental companies in FMCG (Fast Moving Consumer Goods) supply chains.

Block pallets rely on blocks as vertical members. Blocks are rectangular, square, or cylindrical deck spacers that provide separation between the top and bottom deck. Stringer boards extend the full length of the pallet, perpendicular to the deck boards, and are placed between top deck boards and blocks.

Heavy-duty block pallets tend to be more durable, mainly due to the substantial amount of material used in construction. They are also typically readily repairable due to the width of the pallet block.

In terms of recyclability, stringer and block pallets are easily repairable and able to function in the supply chain over long periods before the need to recycle the pallet entirely for its components

To summarize, wood pallets are sustainable and can be customized to create optimal unit load handling solutions for the supply chain. All pallets, however, are based on stringer or block pallet classes.

While stringer pallets are preferred by many North American pallet users, block pallets’ four-way entry functionality makes them an attractive choice in some handling environments.

Checklist

Avoid These 6 Mistakes When Buying Wood Pallets

When it comes to buying wood pallets, there are several factors to consider. Modern Materials Handling Magazine’s 2018 annual survey found that purchase price was the most important factor in the selection process for 57% of respondents, although this was down from 59% and 60% in the two preceding years. Other criteria registering high scores included strength, durability, reusability, availability, meeting customer requirements, and cost-per-use. Here are some missteps to avoid.

Relying on outdated wood pallet specifications

Supply chains evolve over time. Companies acquire other companies that have different equipment and processes. Even at existing plants, investments in material handling equipment, evolving product offerings, and a changing customer base may all present new challenges in transporting the unit load on a legacy pallet.

A periodic review of the pallet specification with your pallet supplier can achieve continued unit load optimization, even as the supply chain transforms.

Approved pallet supplier cannot perform a site visit

As a busy pallet buyer, it can seem inconvenient to allow approved bidders on site to review pallet conditions and processes, especially considering COVID-19 precautions. It is an essential part of the process that will pay dividends.

A site visit allows the bidder to accurately capture important information about the pallet application, and in a timely manner. This approach can help expedite the bidding process. A site visit can also help pallet suppliers identify cost savings opportunities or other insights that can provide value to pallet users.

Inflexible on hardwood vs softwood pallet types

In the United States, the West and the South are more commonly associated with softwood, while the East is typically oriented to hardwood production. Pallet specifications can propose either hardwood or softwood in their build.

However, if a new plant begins operations in a different part of the country, or if comparative prices of hardwood and softwood change due to market conditions, it makes sense to revisit the pallet specification with regards to available lumber supply.

When market volatility increases the spread between hardwood and softwood prices, it can make sense to explore pallet redesign options with a pallet supplier.

ISPM-15 Heat treatment and mold on wood pallets

There is a common conception that the heat-treatment required for ISPM 15 compliance will help to prevent the occurrence of mold on pallets.

While heat treatment will initially kill surface mold on pallets, mold can easily re-colonize wood pallets that have a moisture content of more than 19%. A better approach to mold prevention is assuring that pallets arrive in a dry condition from the pallet supplier and that they are kept dry when received and put into storage prior to use.

Overlooking transportation opportunities

Products such as pallets have a relatively low value in comparison to their weight and volume. Such products are referred to as having a low value density.

Given the low value density of pallets, transportation can quickly become a significant portion of pallet cost. At the same time, the number of trucks running empty is significant, estimated at 20% or higher. By working with pallet suppliers to examine carrier and route information, possible synergies can be identified to help reduce costs and transportation miles.

Underestimating the value of customer service

When buying pallets, there is more to consider than price. Do not underweight the importance of customer service. Your company will have expectations about reliable quality and availability, delivery schedule, type of delivery vehicle, whether pallets are banded, and more.

Shortcomings in customer service can result in costly downtime, double handling, and customer dissatisfaction. The result can be increased production and distribution costs, and potentially lost revenue. The direct savings in pallet purchases can become overwhelmed by increases in indirect cost.

The list of false steps mentioned above provides a useful starting point in addressing the blind spots that pallet buyers can encounter. The common thread in these cautions is the importance of keeping an open line of communication with your pallet supplier. Communication and trust are critical to optimizing the purchase of new pallets for your supply chain.

CP-1 Pallet

Introducing the Chemical Pallet Pool

There are several pallet pools that provide quality assured pallets for their respective supply chains. Pallet pools offer standardization and the opportunity for pallet reuse and environmentally friendly pallet solutions.

The CP or chemical pallet pool is one pallet pool you might not have heard about. It is well established in the chemical sector, particularly in Europe, but not well known outside of it. Increasingly, however, it is becoming global in scope, and more pallet customers are asking about CP pallets.

Several million CP pallets are produced annually, and they are readily identifiable by the CP pallet stencil on them.  There are nine different CP pallet specifications, ranging from CP1 to CP9.

CP pallet markings include the CP pallet number as well as the manufacturer code, pallet reconditioner, if applicable, and the month/year of production. The ISPM 15 stamp is also required for international shipment. The latest specifications for CP pallets can be viewed here.

The CP pallet pool organizers created strict quality guidelines for pallets in the extremely sensitive chemical supply chain. While the pool is European in origin, the increasingly worldwide nature of the chemical supply chain is making the CP pallet more relevant than ever for North American shippers fielding requests for shipments to be made on CP pallets.

For pallet buyers looking to source CP pallets, it is important to communicate clearly with customers and understand their requirements. They may or may not have issues with “knock-off” or used CP pallet quality that should be vetted with them prior to shipping to avoid costly rejections or delays.

Such concerns are explored later in this article. Beyond chemical industry applications, however, CP pallets are often in demand for other applications where their block design makes them popular.

The CP pallet pool was established in 1991 by the VCI (Verband der Chemischer Industry) in Germany. Pool oversight subsequently passed to the APME (Association of Plastics Manufacturers in Europe), now Plastics Europe. Over the last few years, the European Pallet Association (EPAL) has also expanded its pallet range to include quality-assured EPAL CP pallets.

In the past, EPAL noted in a 2017 announcement, “price competition and the lack of independent quality assurance have often meant that chemical pallets have not met the requirements for the safe transport of chemical products.”

In many pools, there is a trade-off between standard pallets and unit load optimization. The CP pallet pool addresses this issue by incorporating several sizes. The most popular CP pallet sizes in North America are CP1, CP3, CP7 and CP9.

Typical applications for various CP pallets are as follows:

●       CP1 pallet (1200 x 1000 mm)  – boxes and sacks

●       CP2 pallet (1200 x 800 mm) – carton boxes and sacks

●       CP3 pallet (1140 x 1140 mm) – drums and bulk bags

●       CP4 pallet (1100 x 1300 mm) – sacks

●       CP5 pallet (760 x 1140 mm) – small packages such as boxes and bins

●       CP6 pallet (1200 x 1000 mm) – sacks

●       CP7 pallet (1300 x 1100 mm) – sacks

●       CP8 pallet (1140 x 1140 mm) – container transportation

●       CP9 pallet (1140 x 1140 mm) – containers, drums and bulk bags

The importance of pallet quality

The chemical industry is particularly sensitive to industrial hazards, a fact that underscores the importance of pallet quality. “Storing and transporting packaged and bulk chemicals is both a high risk and complex process,” one industry expert wrote recently. “Complex because the sector is highly regulated and there are many raw materials and manufactured products that need to be handled in specific and unique ways. Products are high risk because they can be corrosive, volatile, hazardous and expensive to store and move.”

Given the risk of handling chemicals and their value, it is no surprise that the chemical supply chain often leans towards new pallets.  “When you have an extremely valuable and sensitive product, why would you take the risk on a used pallet,” one former CP pallet buyer from Germany told Nature’s Packaging.

A quick online search indicates that both used as well as new CP pallets can be sourced in the North American marketplace. When customers specify a particular pallet, such as a CP pallet, it may be important to drill a little deeper to determine the sensitivity of customers regarding pallet certification and state of repair.

It is good practice to understand whether the customer requires a certified CP pallet as opposed to a non-certified pallet that broadly follows the specification. In a similar vein, used, certified pallets are often required to be in top condition due to the inherent risks of the supply chain.

It pays to take the time to fully understand customer pallet requirements. Watch for CP pallets to play an increasingly important role in the global chemical supply chain.

Identifying and Mitigating Mold on Wood Pallets

As we pass through the hot summer months in North America, an increasing number of Nature’s Packaging readers are entering search queries regarding pallet mold. Whether you are a pallet supplier, a pallet user, or even as a hobbyist, there are practical steps that can be taken to prevent or mitigate mold. This blog post provides a quick starting point to better understand the problem of mold on wood pallets and the options for managing it.

What is pallet mold and what are the concerns?

Mold (or mould in other English-speaking countries) is a fungus that grows in the form of multicellular filaments.


Mold filaments

Mold spores are found everywhere in the environment, and they are more likely to colonize wood surfaces that have a moisture content greater than 19%.

On wood pallets, mold may produce pigmented spores on the wood surface. They may appear in various colors, while some might not be visible to the naked eye.

There has been an increasing demand for mold-free wood packaging from the food and pharmaceutical sectors in recent years. The primary concern with mold relates to spore transmission. Airborne spores may land on nearby surfaces, potentially contaminating or growing on nearby materials.

Spores may also colonize other adjacent wood packaging or pallets, thereby increasing the extent of the problem. Secondary health concerns include asthma and toxin production. Like other airborne particles, spores can induce asthma. The more spores that are present, the higher is the risk. As one researcher notes, some mold fungi are also capable of producing toxins, but while high levels of toxins can have health effects, the levels produced by fungi on wood tend to be low.

Not all wood discoloration is a concern

Before flagging or rejecting a pallet for mold, consider that the discoloration you see might be something else. By taking the time to understand the different types of stain that can occur in wood, you can avoid wasting time, money, and potential disruption to your supply chain.

For example, bluestain creates black discoloration but does not cause human health concerns. Additional sources of non-harmful discoloration that might be present on pallets include iron stain, brown stain (or zebra stain), natural weathering, and others. NWPCA has a helpful brochure that can be downloaded at this link.

Mold remediation

Although labor-intensive, a simple solution of water with bleach (10 to 1 ratio) or 3% concentration of hydrogen peroxide can remove mold. Scrub or pressure wash clean the affected cants or wood packaging. Proper drying is needed to ensure that the mold does not return.

Mold prevention tips

Mold prevention starts with understanding the recipe that mold requires to flourish. There are four essential ingredients needed. This list includes:

  • oxygen,
  • adequate temperature,
  • a food source (the wood),
  • free or liquid water.

The variable most easily controlled is water. By limiting the exposure of wood pallets to moisture, you can mostly avoid mold problems.

Keep stock fresh and remove moldy material.

At the sawmill or pallet manufacturing plant, one expert advises against storing wet lumber in solid piles for no longer than three days, especially in warm conditions.

Create good airflow to accelerate surface drying, and avoid accumulations of older, moldy material. Such lumber can increase the risk of fungi spreading to freshly milled material.

Unload pallets quickly and protect them from the elements.

Pallet users can benefit by thinking of a trailer full of pallets as an incubator. While logistics professionals often rely on trailers for temporary storage, leaving pallets on trailers during warm weather, even for a brief period, can quickly turn into an unintended science experiment.

Also, avoid staging pallets outside in moist conditions. If pallets do become wet, dry them immediately.

Store pallets in a dry, well-lit, and ventilated location.

Do not store pallets in a far dark corner of your building. Look for a dry area that is well lit and ventilated. For stringer pallets, leave a space on the stringer side of the stacks to ensure good airflow.

For the same reason, orient the end openings in the direction of air movement. Also, elevating pallet stacks at least 6 or 8 inches above the floor helps prevent pallets from coming into contact with water puddles.

Chemical treatment for mold prevention might be an option.

Several registered chemicals can be applied to prevent mold, subject to those treatments being permitted for your application. A dialogue between pallet suppliers, customers and other supply chain stakeholders can pinpoint the best option for a particular use case.

Do not rely on ISPM 15 heat treatment as a preventive measure.

One common misunderstanding is that heat treatment can be an effective course of action to prevent mold. This belief is not valid. The heat treatment of wood packaging is undertaken to kill wood born insects.

While heat treatment can kill surface mold already present during the process, it does not prevent the recolonization of mold after treatment. It is true that when kiln-dried lumber is used for pallets, the low moisture content of the wood does help prevent the colonization of mold, but only if the pallets continue to be kept dry.

The bottom line is that keeping your wood pallets and packaging at 19% moisture content or lower can help prevent mold. Rotating stock, attention to unloading pallets from trailers quickly, ensuring adequate airflow in a well-lit storage location, and removing any moldy material can all help. Consider chemical treatments, if permitted in your supply chain, to increase your level of protection. Attention to keeping pallets dry in your material handling operations can make a critical difference.

picture of a standard ISPM-15 marking on wood background

The Importance of Wood Pallet Markings and Colors

picture of a standard ISPM-15 marking on wood background

In the modern supply chain, there is a huge potential for the use of smart pallets – Internet of Things (IoT) technology enabled wood pallets that are capable of transmitting valuable data.  Already, some pallets carry sensors that can not only aid in geo-location but also track other environmental conditions or events including temperature, humidity, and shock. Many experts believe that such technologies will enable true transparency in the supply chain in terms of end to end visibility.

The role of pallets in communicating important information, however, is not a new one. They have always had things to tell us. Pallet stamps or colors can communicate information such as the pallet owner or a particular type of wood pallet (i.e. used to move chemicals).

In the case of ISPM 15, a stamp can also let global supply chain participants rest assured that the pallet meets international phytosanitary requirements. Pallet users, administrators and customs officials continue to benefit from information provided by wood pallet markings and colors.

By understanding pallet markings, even pallet craft enthusiasts and the general public can gain an appreciation of the crucial role of the pallet in global commerce.

Checking out a stack of empty pallets at a retailer location is a great way to grasp the international flavor of the food supply chain that services your local store.

ISPM 15 Pallet Markings

For example, watch for country codes on pallets from nations such as MX (Mexico), CR (Costa Rica), or AR (Argentina) that have brought fresh products from abroad. And at the tile and marble store, you are likely to see pallets from countries such as IT (Italy) or ES (Spain). Countries of origin are included as part of the ISPM 15 stamp. (a list of ISPM 15 country codes).

ISPM 15 markings certify that the wood pallets in question have been treated to prevent the international transmission of insect species that could decimate native flora and forests in the country of destination.

ISPM stamps are critical to stopping the spread of harmful insects, as well as in tracing back any non-compliance situations to the pallet supplier.

The ISPM 15 stamps provide useful information such as the certifying agency, the numeric code of the pallet producer, as well as the treatment method. HT signifies that the pallet or the wood used in assembling it has been heat treated in accordance with requirements. ISPM 15 stamps also include initials for the country of origin.

Wood Pallet Stamps and Brands

Pallet stamps or brands are also used for other purposes. They can signify different pallet models or sizes.  The CP (chemical) pallet pool, for example, includes nine different models (CP1 through CP9) to meet the various palletization needs of the industry.

They may also signify the pallet owner or pallet pool name. Pallets marked EPAL (European Pallet Association) are part of the world’s largest pallet pool. EPAL does not own EPAL pallets but rather, assures their quality.

Reusable pallet program administrators may require pallet supplier and production date information on pallets to help them monitor pallet quality and durability. Wood pallets may also include residual markings such as grade stamps from the lumber used to manufacture them.

Wood Pallet Color Meanings

You may also wonder about pallets painted a particular color. This approach is used by major pallet rental companies.  Aside from visual attractiveness for marketing purposes, color aids in the quick identification of pallets by material handling personnel when receiving pallets under load or selecting the appropriate pallet for load building.

Color is also useful for such tasks as taking physical inventory of pallets sitting at height in storage racks. Pallet users also employ color coded pallets to signal important information to pallet handlers about the pallet’s intended application.

While the future is brimming with potential for pallets and IoT, they can already tell us quite a bit. As a pallet user, are you utilizing markings to their full potential? It is a topic you could explore with your pallet provider.

But whether you use pallets or simply appreciate their role, the next time you pass a stack, take a moment to check them out for the specific markings discussed above. They have quite a story to share.

damaged wood pallets

How to Reduce the Hidden Cost of Damaged Pallets

Damaged pallets sitting in a pile.

While the cost of repairing a wood pallet or replacing it is obvious, there are hidden costs to damaged pallets as well. When companies perform a root cause analysis to identify the source of a problem, they often trace back issues such as workers comp. claims, product or equipment damage, and production disruptions to damaged pallets.

The following are some basic steps to keep damaged pallets from becoming an obstacle to a company’s supply chain success.

Wood Pallet Design

By investing in a more durable pallet, you can avoid the frequency of repair. Experts recommend inexpensive improvements such as adding more/better quality fasteners. While nails account for 5% of a pallet’s cost, they can impact 50% of the pallet’s durability.

Another way to help make your pallets more robust is to pay attention to the boards on the leading edges of the top deck (the lead boards). Two butted 6-inch hardwood lead boards on each end can keep your pallets sound and in service for much longer.

Wood Pallet Selection

Work with your pallet supplier to ensure you have the best pallet to meet your needs. For example, if you have a cramped production shop or loading dock and are required to pinwheel pallets, using a block pallet will let your forklift drivers move them without causing stringer damage.

Likewise, pallets not designed to safely rack the weight of your load can result in failure. By using Pallet Design System™ (PDS), your pallet supplier can provide you with the right pallet to optimize your process.

Wood Pallet Inspection and Segregation

It goes without saying that damaged pallets should not be loaded with product. Integrate pallet quality into your quality assurance process. Establish a procedure for segregating damaged pallets so they can be returned or sent out for repair.

Also, ensure your company has an effective process for managing and eliminating damaged or non-compliant pallets entering your facility under load, or returning empty and damaged from trading partners.

Wood Pallet Handling Best Practices

A lot of pallet damage is caused by incorrect handling. Employee training and ongoing supervision to prevent handling mistakes is critical to minimizing it. Do’s and don’t’s of pallet handling include the following:

  • Do not bulldoze pallets over a concrete floor with a forklift. Bulldozing might seem like a productive way to move more product in less time, but it can damage the pallets, the floor, and even the lift truck. Bulldozing can even be an OSHA violation if the equipment operator has restricted visibility or the loads are unstable and there may be pedestrians present.
  • Take care when entering or exiting from pallets with material handling equipment. A 10,000 lbs. forklift versus a 50 lbs. pallet is not exactly a fair fight. Forklift operators should slow down before entering a pallet. Impact can loosen or break lead boards. Incorrect tine placement can also cause damage. Be sure to enter the openings cleanly, avoiding contact with blocks or stringers. Forklift tines should be horizontal.
  • Likewise, be sure to fully enter the pallet. Incorrectly positioned “walkies” or electric motor hand trucks can result in bottom deck board damage, while “short forking”, the practice of only placing forks part way under a load before lifting it, can result in top deck damage as well as load instability. Also, avoid “humping” unit loads together, the practice of lowering the load after contact has been made. Ensure to lower the load immediately before contact.
  • Pay attention to pallet stacking and manual handling. Stack pallets squarely so that they will not catch on other loads and fall over. Avoid standing pallets on edge, as they can easily fall over, causing damage to pallets and creating the risk of injury.
  • Avoid standing on a pallet. While a pallet may be rated to hold 2,000 lbs. uniformly distributed across its top surface, the pressure of a person’s foot on a single board can cause it to snap. Pallets are not designed to support people.

Repairing pallets and purchasing new ones can seem expensive, but below the surface, pallet damage might be linked to workplace injuries, product damage, or costly production stoppages in your facility. By following the steps listed above, you can help eliminate the hidden cost of damaged pallets.

Wood Pallet Recycling

Pallet Pooling and the Circular Economy

wood pallet inside a recycling symbol

When effectively executed, pallet pooling is an approach to pallet management that can help promote pallet reuse and help save money for pallet users. It is also an environmental best practice that too often flies under the radar. That is rapidly changing, however, as pallet pooling providers are increasingly recognized as successful circular economy solutions.

Over 70 years since the emergence of pallet pooling, the concept is now celebrated as a circular economy (or sharing economy) best practice. This recognition comes at a time when companies are urgently pursuing strategies to reduce climate change impact, solid waste, and pollution. For many operators, pallet pooling will be a relatively straightforward solution that can help them gain momentum in their shift to circularity.

For those supply chains currently exploring or reassessing the opportunity for pooling, they can draw upon the experience of others. Pallet pooling first began with the U.S. military during the Second World War, when pallets were shared between supply plants.

In the decades that followed, several leading pallet pools were formed, including such notables as the europallet system (now EPAL) in Europe, the GPC (later GMA) pool in the United States, and the now-defunct Canadian Pallet Council (CPC) in Canada. Enduringly successful pooling providers also emerged in Australia in the years that followed World War 2.

Today, pallet pools play an important role in some supply chains, notably fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) supply chains.

Benefits of Pallet Pooling

Pallet pooling is a form of equipment pooling, itself a particular approach to equipment management. As in other forms of equipment pooling, pooled pallets are shared among participants. Companies ship pool pallets to other locations where they are reused or shipped empty to another pool participant or intermediary.

Pallet pooling offers several benefits to users. The reuse of pooled pallets helps to reduce the need to manufacture new pallets, generally resulting in a lower cost per trip than a single-use pallet. Additionally, they are typically designed with durability in mind. A modest increase in pallet cost can result in a generous payback in increased pallet life.

Quality assurance is another important feature of pallet pooling. Typically, there is a standard size or a range of standard sizes, and there will be a prescribed specification that new and repaired pallets are expected to meet.

By belonging to a pool, companies can enjoy the benefits of the pool’s quality assurance program to help promote safe material handling in their operations.

As mentioned above, pallet pooling supports circular economy aspirations through an emphasis on the sharing of long-lasting pallets that can be reused, repaired, re-manufactured, and when no longer usable; reduced to wood fiber for other applications. Such an approach helps to eliminate CO2 by avoiding the need to manufacture new pallets and the frequency of end-of-life pallet recycling.

Pallet Pooling Models

There are various approaches to pooling. In North America, two particularly visible examples in the FMCG sector are 3rd party rental and the GMA common pool.

Third-party rental (similar to pallet hire in other parts of the world) providers rent pallets to users, typically on a per-use basis. Pallet rental is dominated by a handful of large companies that require massive pallet inventories and a large retrieval network.

There are also smaller rental providers, however, that provide custom solutions to less complex supply chains featuring fewer “ship-to” locations. Rental participants can benefit by enjoying the use of a premium quality pallet at a lower cost than purchasing a new pallet. Providers provide mechanisms to remove unneeded empty pallets after they have been unloaded.

Another leading model is the common pool. It features a commonly accepted standard, but without formal oversight or management at the pool level.

In the case of the GMA or 48×40”, refurbished pallets are readily available in the marketplace. While quality assurance is not officially regulated, the competitive nature of the marketplace requires attention to a general consensus of quality assurance standards.

One bonus of the common pool is that participants are less restricted as to where the pallets can be shipped. Additionally, a ready demand for accumulations of empty pallets exists in most markets to alleviate empty pallet accumulation.

There are other models. In many instances, companies have their own pallet inventories that are shared among company locations and regular trading partners. These may be managed by the company owning the pallets, or through a third-party management service.

Another type of model, more prominent in Europe, is the industry cooperative approach. In the cooperative approach, pallets are generally owned by an industry-supported not-for-profit to provide pallets to industry participants.

There is also a third-party association regulatory approach, such as provided by EPAL. The regulatory group creates specifications for the manufacture and repair of pallets. The pallets are owned by participants, however, who are free to transfer ownership to trading partners or exchange, according to their needs.

These are just examples of pooling models, and the list is by no means exhaustive. Some supply chains will require unique variations to provide the best solution in terms of value, quality assurance and environmental gains for their particular needs.

Pooling, however, is widely practiced in a variety of ways, and a circular solution to your pallet requirements might be closer at hand than you might imagine. Why not contact an NWPCA, CWPCA or WPA member company today to explore how pallet pooling could work in concert with your company’s strategic aspirations.

warehouse racks with pallets of goods

COVID-19, Supply Chain Trends, and Pallet Selection-What’s Important Now!

warehouse racks with pallets of goods

COVID-19, Supply Chain Trends, and Pallet Selection-What’s Important Now!

The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted supply chains and consumer behaviors worldwide. It has heightened the awareness of sanitation and is accelerating shifts involving shopper format preference and palletized handling automation. Here are three changes to consider from the pallet usage perspective.

Sanitized Wood Pallets

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, concern about pallet sanitation and cross-contamination briefly became a talking point during initial concerns about contact surfaces as a means of spreading the infection.

While that conversation has somewhat faded, sanitation remains an ongoing item of interest for savvy shippers. According to the U.S. Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA Final Rule on Sanitary Transportation of Human and Animal Food, the design and maintenance of transportation equipment, including pallets, must “…ensure that it does not cause the food that it transports to become unsafe.”

As such, pallet users should ensure that pallets used for food shipments are clean, dry, and sound.

Wood pallets compare favorably to pallets made from other materials. Recently released research undertaken by Institut für Holztechnologie in Dresden on behalf of the European Pallet Association (EPAL) in Germany compared the microbial properties of wood and plastic pallets. It found that bacteria had a lower survival rate on the wooden surface than on plastic.

The wooden pallets are suitable for use in hygiene sensitive areas, including food processing and transport. As stated in the report, wood has natural antibacterial properties that prevent microorganisms from spreading. It reported that wooden pallets have an antibacterial activity that is more than 13x higher than that of comparable plastic pallets.

Consumer Behavior and Wood Pallets

Consider that in April 2020, online retail sales grew by 120%, accounting for almost 10% of everything sold. COVID-19 has acted to change shopper behavior, with more people moving to online ordering and frequenting smaller footprint retail locations.

Likewise, there has been a significant shift away from the food service sector to online and grocery retail as restaurants struggled with closures during the pandemic. Online shopping and the retail formats favored by customers could influence pallet selection in the future.

Smaller pallets can provide easier handling in the narrow aisles of convenience stores and help speed up delivery. An increase in small format retailing would suggest a greater opportunity for smaller wooden pallets.

However, a decrease in supermarket shopper traffic and more home delivery or curbside pick-up would suggest less demand for display pallets for floor and in-aisle placement. The influx of new technologies, such as automated micro-fulfillment systems at retail, increases the efficiency of ecommerce and will help accelerate this trend. Such a shopper behavior shift could dampen the anticipated growth of half and quarter size pallets, as well as point of sale displays.

Current and future consumer behavior shifts add a layer of uncertainty to optimal pallet selection in the food sector. Wood pallets, which can be easily customized to a specified size, as opposed to plastic pallets that require costly molds, provide much greater flexibility and a much quicker response to possible shifts in the wake of the pandemic.

COVID-19 and Supply Chain Automation

Another area of uncertainty is how the pandemic will influence the uptake of automation. A report from McKinsey suggests that in the short term, COVID-19 has negatively impacted capital investment. Several observers, however, feel that the pandemic will escalate interest in automated solutions.

“Automation that shields workers from sickness while ensuring the delivery of critical goods and services could initially be welcomed by workers and the public at large,” one expert observed recently. He observed that companies that invest in automation are “likely to come out faster – and perhaps stronger – as the economy rebounds.”

Automation can affect pallet requirements. Typically, automation requires a quality-controlled and uniform pallet. Issues such as poor-quality or missing bottom boards, missing or damaged components, and excessive deflection can impact pallet performance in automated systems.

If we do witness a rush to automation, pallets must be considered an element of the project design process. And after installation, a robust quality assurance program will help ensure that wood pallets will continue to perform at a high level.

The pandemic has resulted in several uncertainties for supply chain participants, and changes may impact pallet selection. Luckily, the flexibility offered by wood pallets and the industry’s professionalism will enable operators to keep pace with any shifts in customer demand as we transition into the future.

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