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Wood Pallets 101

The Pallet Industry

“Pallets Move the World” is the motto of the National Wood & Pallet Container Association and it is most definitely true. Wood pallets are widely used in the supply chain and can be found in nearly every type of logistics operation , whether it be packaging, transportation, warehousing, crossdocking, pick/pack, etc. The use of wood pallets has revolutionized the supply chain and has increased efficiency in logistics by orders of magnitude. In the United States today, wood pallets are a $12 billion dollar industry that is a critical part of the infrastructure that keeps the US economy functioning even in the midst of a global pandemic.

Wood Pallet Companies

In North America, wooden pallets are produced and recycled by an army of companies (3000+) spread across the continent. Most often, these are family owned businesses that are now reaching the 3rd-4th generation. The companies can range in size from 2 people in a garage, to companies with hundreds of employees based across multiple geographic regions, to global corporations with thousands of employees.

Pallet brokers are companies that typically don’t own any assets (like pallet yards), but are able to tap into this industry ecosystem to service clients with diverse manufacturing or production operations across the country or globe.

The Wood Pallet

New Pallets

Pallets are generally inexpensive to manufacture. The raw material used is the byproduct of wood that is left over after the high grade material goes to veneer, furniture, and paper among others.

Typically, they are constructed using softwood or hardwood depending on availability of pallet lumber in the specific regional market. New pallets are generally built by machine as it allows for much more efficiency in production vs being built by hand. Here is an example of a pallet building machine at work:

Recycled Pallets

Wood pallets are very often rebuilt and recycled multiple times before the end of their life cycle. This makes them the most sustainable and reusable link in the supply chain. The video below is a great view of what takes place when a recycled pallet is repaired.

 

Pallet Supply and Flow

Wood pallets tend to move through the supply chain and stay within a particular region. For example, a beverage manufacturer palletizes their product on a standard 48×40 pallet. Those pallets (unit loads) are loaded into a truck and that truck then hauls the load to a beverage distributor 125 miles away. The beverage distributor may break down the unit load to put them on another smaller vehicle for delivery or move the full pallet to a nearby grocery store chain.

Eventually, the pallet is emptied and then it is resold, repaired if needed, and re-used in the local supply chain. This process happens repeatedly, with some slight variation on the type of load transported, thousands of times a day.

Over time, this regional pallet pool will decline in quality because the pallets have been repaired many times. At the end of their utility, pallets have a number of options for recycling. They can be ground into mulch, made into animal bedding, or repurposed into creative projects. The important point is that they are recycled throughout their entire life cycle all the way to the end. in fact, wooden pallets and containers are recycled 95% of the time and are an important part of any company’s sustainability effort.

A Quick Take on the Growth Cycle of Trees

A Quick Take on the Growth Cycle of Trees

Trees within forests are like wind and solar power in that they are a renewable resource. Whereas wind and solar energy can be regenerated relatively continuously, trees require more time to convert solar energy to wood so it can be utilized. In this article we’ll take a quick look at a tree’s growth cycle.

Tree seedlings will often wait for ideal environmental conditions to arise before sprouting.  Some species of tree seeds will remain intact for many years, waiting for the perfect environment, while others will only sprout under extreme conditions such as a forest fire. Only when the seeds are exposed to the right conditions will they sprout.

A seedling will appear above the ground and the first two leaves will start to absorb sunlight to provide energy for further growth. Seedlings will then start developing woody characteristics and will continue to grow and seek out the sun. Saplings are usually 1 – 4 inches in diameter and about 4.5 feet in height.  Many nurseries will sell saplings at this point in the tree’s growth cycle because they are capable of being transplanted with a high survival rate.

It is during the early growth phases of a tree’s life that it absorbs the most amount of carbon. During the process of photosynthesis, young trees convert carbon dioxide to breathable oxygen and use the carbon internally for growth. When hundreds of thousands of trees within a forest complete this process simultaneously, they fight global warming by reducing the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

About half of any given piece of lumber’s net weight is carbon that was sequestered from the atmosphere and lumber will continue to store that carbon until it naturally disintegrates or is burned for energy. No part of a tree goes to waste! The bark and branches are used for supplies like garden mulch and animal bedding whereas the lower quality of lumber from a tree is used to make wood pallets. According to the research article “Pallet Re-Use and Recycling Saves High Value Material from Landfills,” there are about 4 billion wood pallets in circulation just in the United States. Wood pallets have been used for decades and have established themselves as the safest and most reliable way to transport goods and services while storing carbon sequestered from the atmosphere.

References

Wood Pallets Help Kids at Refugee Camps

Wood Pallets Help Kids at Refugee Camps

According to the UNHCR, developing countries host 86% of the world’s refugees and about 51% of all refugees are children. To be clear, a refugee is a person who has been forced to leave their country to escape war, persecution, or natural disaster. With so many children at refugee camps, their childhoods are impacted by the experience of fleeing their home country for fear of their safety. Humanitarian aid ships to them on wood pallets yet many children are left without toys.

Jon Robbins, a 33 year old advertising and design professional, wants to change that. Instead of shipping food, medicine, and water to refugee camps on one-way wood pallets, he wants to ship them on wood pallets that can be converted to sports equipment. That way, the kids at refugee camps can play and have some fun!

Jon said, “I was inspired by a friend telling me about his visit to a refugee camp and how eerily quiet it was. And it turns out that although more than half of the refugees in the camp are children, they aren’t playing, which is why it seemed so quiet. I love sports and I really believe in the importance and healing power of play, so I was inspired to try to see how to help get some sports equipment out to those children.

It’s a tough sell to get play equipment on a pallet that’s transporting food, water, and medicine to refugees, so we began designing and developing a pallet that is also a completely self-contained sports equipment system.”

His first patent-pending design is an all-inclusive basketball set. The 48×40 pallet includes instructions, spare parts, a hoop, net, and ball. Each pallet is designed to be reconstructed into two stand-alone basketball nets and includes everything needed to construct it. Other designs he has planned are soccer goals and skateboards. The wood pallets are manufactured in upstate New York.

According to the UNHCR, there are 21.3 million refugees in the world and less than 1% of the world’s refugees are ever resettled. Although refugee camps are intended to be a temporary stay, for many, they are long-term. Giving kids at refugee camps toys to play with gives them hope and joy.

For more information or to help the cause, visit the Play Pallets website.

Resources

Upcycled Wood Pallets: The Forklift & Palate Restaurant

The Forklift & Palate Restaurant

If the walls of the Forklift & Palate Restaurant could talk, they would tell a tale of American enterprise and vision comingled with respect and care for the environment.

Upcycled wooden pallets at the center of attention in The Forklift & Palate Restaurant. Photography © Stephanie Jordan

Upcycled wooden pallets at the center of attention in The Forklift & Palate Restaurant. Photography © Stephanie Jordan

The Forklift & Palate Restaurant is housed along with The Warehouse Hotel and Spooky Nook Sports facility in a repurposed industrial warehouse in Manheim, PA. Located in the heart of the famed Pennsylvania Dutch country, the restaurant offers authentic down-home American hospitality, new twists on classic American culinary favorites, and surroundings that incorporate imaginative uses of the building’s original industrial trappings, including pallets, pallet slats and cable spools. Yes, we’re talking about pallets, wooden shipping skids that were stashed onsite when the former Armstrong World Industries distribution center was purchased and converted into a world-class sports training and entertainment center in 2011.

Photography © Stephanie Jordan

Photography © Stephanie Jordan

The Forklift & Palate Restaurant features recycled and repurposed materials from the original warehouse throughout the facility, right down to the cement in the driveway and the pallets that frame display murals on the walls. Tables in the restaurant and bar area made from used pallet slats sit adjacent to tables made from large circular wire spools lending a casual, rustic ambiance to the space. Every wall in the restaurant is unique; many are faced with pallet slats and other recycled materials. Even the menu holster at the hostess station is made from used pallet slats.

“Everybody loves the décor. It’s very natural, very authentic. And it’s a comfortable setting where people can relax and chill with friends, buddies and teammates,” said Tim Brandt, Forklift & Palate Restaurant manager. “The place has a great vibe and people feel really good about the green theme of reusing, recycling, being earth friendly. Of course, they love the great food and friendly service, too.”

Photography © Stephanie Jordan

Photography © Stephanie Jordan

The restaurant’s environmental ethos goes well beyond its contemporary industrial décor stylings to incorporate state-of-the-art environmental systems such as geothermal heating and rainwater recycling. “With all of our three entities, we are committed to environmentally friendly practices, from the types of cleaners we use to the conservation of water in our restrooms, turf watering practices and kitchens,” said Stephanie Jordan, Spooky Nook’s marketing manager. “By using repurposed building materials in our complex, restaurant and hotel, we hope to preserve not only beautiful Lancaster County, but also the history of this unique building.”

The Forklift & Palate Restaurant opened and began welcoming guests over the 2015 Independence Day weekend. The Spooky Nook complex, which sits on 65 acres and owes its name to its location on Spooky Nook Road, is the nation’s largest total experience sports destination. The Nook hosts tournaments, leagues, camps and clinics in sports ranging from baseball, basketball, football and ice hockey to fencing, tennis, soccer and scores of other sports activities.

(Article written for and published in PalletCentral, September-October 2015)

2 Types of Recycled Pallets for Export

2 Types of Recycled Pallets for Export

The sustainable standards of ISPM 15 regulations apply to recycled wood pallets and prevent them from spreading wood boring insects across international borders. These standards help ensure recycled wood pallet and crate companies do their part to protect the environment. ISPM 15 separated recycled pallets into two categories: repaired and remanufactured.

It’s Like Buying a Used Car

When a pallet company buys broken, heat treated, recycled pallets from their customer, most of the pallets require some repair. The pallet company brings the recycled pallets to their facility to sort through them. They fix the repairable pallets and salvage the others for parts.

Photograph by Wikimedia, distributed under a CC-BY 2.0 license

Photograph by Wikimedia, distributed under a CC-BY 2.0 license.

Buying used pallets is like buying a used car. You could buy a reliable used car that might have had the transmission, radiator, or other parts replaced and it will still be safe and effective to drive. It’s the same car it always has been; it’s simply had a part or two replaced. In the same way, replacing the bad parts of a pallet extends the life of the pallet. ISPM 15 has two categories for recycled pallets. The first category is repaired pallets, referred to in section 4.3.2 of ISPM 15.

Repaired pallets have had up to one-third of the components replaced. This is like the new car that had its radiator replaced. Everything is still new except for that one part. However, once a pallet reaches the end of its life, it’s dismantled and the usable boards are stacked and separated for re-use on other pallets. The unusable boards are recycled into products like wood chips or sawdust for different industries.

It’s possible to make a pallet entirely from recycled boards. If a pallet has had more than one-third of its boards replaced, then ISPM 15 considers it remanufactured, referred to in section 4.3.3 of ISPM 15. This is like the car that has had its engine, transmission, and radiator replaced with parts (new or used) all sourced from different places. When a remanufactured pallet has been repaired with lumber sourced from different locations, separate rules apply. Processes need to be followed to ensure that pallet is ISPM 15 compliant and won’t spread wood-boring pests from one country to another.

Stamping for Export

The governing agency for each ISPM 15 participating country distributes a unique number to be assigned to a stamp. Each company that participates in the ISPM 15 program must clearly stamp each heat treated wood product that leaves their facility with their number. That way, the source of each wood product can be traced in case there’s a problem. Depending on the pallet’s origin, a used pallet can sometimes have more than one stamp on it to certify heat treatment. In the United States, it’s required that all previous stamps be obliterated before a pallet is heat treated. Only then can a new stamp be applied.

The language of ISPM 15 is used as a minimum requirement for all countries that participate. The agency that oversees ISPM 15 in each country has the authority to include additional standards. Put differently, the rules that apply to businesses in Canada are different than the rules that apply to businesses in the United States. The agency that oversees the Canadian ISPM 15 program is the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. In the United States, it’s the American Lumber Standards Committee. Refer to links below for more information.

Resources

Wood Pallets and ZIKA: Get the Facts

How Mosquitos Cross Borders

The spread of the Zika virus within the United States has changed the protocol for exporting shipments to other countries. However, this hasn’t changed the way wood pallets are prepared for export. As described in our previous post, the ISPM 15 requirements exist to prevent the spread of wood-boring insects across international borders. Mosquitos are not wood boring insects. The types of mosquitos that spread the Zika virus breed in pools of water. To prevent the spread of Zika, cargo containers and airplanes are subject to special treatment.

Chinese Regulations

Photograph by Flickr, distributed under a CC-BY 2.0 license.

Photograph by Flickr, distributed under a CC-BY 2.0 license.

China, in particular, is strict on this rule. According to the American Journal of Transportation, China’s fumigation requirement is effective for all shipments from the US after August 5, 2016. On September 2nd, they modified the requirement to apply only to shipments originating from Florida. Products being shipped don’t have to be exposed to the fumigation process if certain conditions are met. For instance, fumigating the empty container prior to loading the cargo into it is considered acceptable. Another method it to keep the temperature at 15 degrees Celsius or less during transit. Passenger and cargo airplanes must also comply with these regulations. The space in commercial airlines for storing baggage and in the passenger seating areas should be fumigated prior to departure. Airlines must supply proof of fumigation to the Chinese government.

Pallet Compliance

Wood pallet companies that supply pallets for export are not responsible for fumigating cargo containers. Pallet suppliers have no obligation beyond the ISPM 15 requirements to certify the lumber on their pallets has been heat treated. The ISPM 15 requirements pallet companies must follow are intended to prevent the spread of wood-boring insects that could harm forest sustainability. The National Wood Pallet and Container Association has been working closely with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) on this subject and had determined:

The ZIKA virus is a human health issue and is related to mosquitos, not wood-boring insects. Therefore, the recognized heat treatment or fumigation of export wood pallets for ISPM 15 compliance is not applicable for ZIKA compliance of the shipment. The entire consignment and container must be anti-mosquito treated and certified pre-shipment. There is no action a wood pallet company can do to assure ZIKA compliance for their customer’s shipment. It is the shipper’s responsibility to ensure the entire shipment is ZIKA compliant.

Inbound shipments without proof of anti-mosquito treatment will be fumigated at the port of discharge in China by the authorities without prior notice. It is the Consignee’s responsibility to inform Shipper (at origin) to provide a certificate proof of treatment before loading the shipment.

These regulations are in place to prevent the spread of Zika virus by mosquitos. The Zika virus was discovered in Uganda in 1947 and is common in Africa and Asia. According to the CDC, as of September 14, 2016, in the United States there have been 43 cases of locally acquired Zika and all of them occurred in Florida. Thus, only outgoing shipments originating from Florida going to China are subject to fumigation; however, these requirements are subject to change. As of September 14, 2016, there are 3,132 cases of US citizens who have contracted Zika by means associated with travel.

Resources

ISPM 15 and Sustainability

History of ISPM 15

The International Stands for Phytosanitary Measures No. 15, referred to in the industry as ISPM 15, is an International Phytosanitary Measure developed by the International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC). According to its documentation, the primary goal is to “reduce the risk of introduction and spread of quarantine pests associated with the movement in international trade of wood packaging material made from raw wood.” The language is comprehensive, covering all forms of wood packaging that serve as pathways for pests that could pose a risk to living trees.

The IPPC is a multilateral treaty signed into effect on December 6, 1951. As of 2010, 74 countries participate in the program. According to the IPPC, the “ISPMs provide globally harmonized guidance for countries to minimize pest risk without creating unjustified barriers to trade, ultimately facilitating their exports and imports of plants and plant products.”

How Wood Packaging Companies Comply

In North America, if a wood products company wants to export lumber then they must comply with the program. The most common way for companies to comply with ISPM 15 standards is by heat treating lumber. In order for lumber to meet these standards, the internal temperature of the timber must reach 56 degrees Celsius or 132.8 degrees Fahrenheit for 30 minutes in a kiln. Certain types of lumber, such as plywood, oriented-strand board (OSB), and sawdust are exempt from these standards as they are exposed to the heat-treating requirements during the manufacturing process. The purpose of heat treating lumber to meet ISPM 15 standards is to reduce the risk of spreading wood boring insects.

Photograph by Wikimedia, distributed under a CC-BY 2.0 license

Photograph by Wikimedia, distributed under a CC-BY 2.0 license

Wood packaging companies that participate in the ISPM 15 program are assigned a stamp with a unique number and that stamp must be clearly applied to all products used in export. They must keep written logs of incoming heat treated lumber and any outgoing orders where the stamp was used. Compliance is monitored and enforced by third party companies that make unscheduled monthly visits to the wood products companies to ensure all rules and regulations are followed. Some of the largest North American inspection companies are Timber Products, Pacific Lumber Inspection Bureau, and West Coast Lumber Inspection Bureau and they work closely with the United States and Canadian governments. If a wood product company doesn’t follow the rules of the program, they can get their stamp revoked and they won’t be allowed to certify lumber products for export.

ISPM 15 and Sustainability

Lumber and other wood packaging companies across North America have widely adopted the ISPM 15 standards and these standards are intended to help protect our forests from wood-boring pests. According to ISPM 15 language, “Pests associated with wood packaging material are known to have negative impacts on forest health and biodiversity. Implementation of this standard is considered to reduce significantly the spread of pests and subsequently their negative impacts.” By adopting ISPM-15 protocols into the manufacturing processes and by achieving the high levels of industry compliance, the wood packaging industry will enhance its role as stewards of the resource, reducing the risk of spreading wood-boring insects which results in elevating the sustainability of the products we produce.

Resources

Pallets Move the World: Urban Coffee Farm

Pallets Move the World: Urban Coffee Farm

Urban Recycling

Wooden pallets stood at the center of attention during the 17-day Melbourne Food and Wine Festival. Wood is a natural product that can be recycled, reused or upcycled in a variety of ways. Whatever you call it, the HASSELL design team used pallets donated from a local pallet manufacturer for the Urban Coffee Farm. As well as availability and cost-efficiency, the design team also selected the pallets to make a visual statement of the coffee story, understanding where the coffee they drink comes from and the journey made along the way – from plantation to café. At the conclusion of the festival, the pallets were returned to the pallet manufacturer.

About the Project

In March 2013 the Urban Coffee Farm and Brew Bar, designed by HASSELL architects, brought Australia’s Melbourne Food and Wine Festival visitors together in an engaging learning and social environment that responded to this year’s festival theme of earth.

The core building materials of the Urban Coffee Farm were shipping containers and pallets. These materials from the transportation industry were the inspiration for the design team, to remind us of the journey made by coffee beans – from jungle plantation to city cafe. The Tasting Café and educational presentation zones were housed in shipping containers, disguised by the sculpted terrain of planted shipping pallets and crates.

The young designers group at HASSELL took advantage of Melbourne Square’s iconic Red Stairs public amphitheater to create a terraced landscape to install their farm and cafe. The space was then filled with coffee trees to give visitors a glimpse of the story of coffee – from seedling to coffee cup – while wandering through the farm. The pallets and containers used in the landscape brought to life the story about coffee, inspiring coffee drinkers to think about its origins, production and transport.

HASSELL has succeeded in transforming this space into an innovative pop-up experience that not only delivered on taste but also on design. The design team celebrated the REUSE of objects in order to serve the urban culture their coffee. A total of 125 coffee trees from a disused coffee plantation in New South Wales were used on the Farm and were later sold to someone who will replant them in Victoria. Over 2,000 tropical plants used to create the jungle effect were given back to the nursery that donated them for the duration of the Festival.

About 1,500 pallets were also donated for the Festival. These pallets were returned to the owner when the Festival ended. The three Port of Melbourne shipping containers, refitted as a bistro and kitchen, were at the end of their useful life; this was their final destination.

ReThink Pallets

ReThink Pallets

It took B sq. Design just 105 pallets, each 5” high, 40” wide and 48” long, to create the ultimate pallet garden for their annual installation at the Canada Blooms festival. The design firm wanted to do something different: rethink opportunities for humble pallets that extend their environmental life-cycle benefits. The clever use of pallets to create a small garden house and incorporating them as garden elements has given new meaning to uses for these common commercial shipping materials that would normally be shredded into mulch at the end of their traditional life-cycle.

At the end of the Canada Blooms festival, the entire installation was dismantled with the pallets returned to warehouses until their next useful life.

At the end of the Canada Blooms festival, the entire installation was dismantled with the pallets returned to warehouses until their next useful life.

B sq. Design firm is just one of many architect and design firms that PalletCentral has seen recently who are incorporating wooden pallets and using them in new ways at trade shows, in retail spaces, and in commercial and residential applications.

At the end of the Canada Blooms festival, the entire installation was dismantled with the pallets returned to warehouses until their next useful life.

Architects and designers are constantly challenged to think outside the box and create unique, cost-effective spaces for their clients. A natural option is incorporating wooden pallets into the design because they are often more readily available than other surface materials. The A.R.E. (Association for Retail Environment) is forecasting an increase in pop-up shops for retailers, industry and consumers. You will likely see wooden pallets increasingly incorporated into commercial projects across the globe. Send us your pictures of these unique and creative uses for pallets, or share a tweet to @palletcentral and we’ll feature more of these inspirational projects in the future.

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