Sustainability trend is changing traditional pallets.
As many of you are aware, sustainability is becoming a more common word in material handling manufacturing and distribution as companies look to preserve resources in our environment. The definition of sustainability varies slightly between companies and industries, but a common theme in many definitions is similar to the one that follows, which has been adapted by the Sustainable Packaging Coalition:
- Is beneficial, safe and healthy for individuals and communities throughout its lifecycle
- Meets market criteria for performance and cost
- Is sourced, manufactured, transported and recycled using renewable energy
- Maximizes the use of renewable or recycled source of materials
- Is manufactured using clean production technologies and best practices
- Is made from materials healthy in all probable end-of-life scenarios
- Is physically designed to optimize materials and energy
- Is effectively recovered and utilized in biological and/or industrial cradle-to-cradle cycles.
The question is, how might that affect the material handling and distribution industry? Although there may be many changes not covered here, I will discuss how one major company, Wal-Mart, has addressed sustainability and incorporated it into their goals and objectives, even moving it into Associate-Driven Personal Sustainability Projects.
What Wal-Mart’s Doing
Wal-Mart is striving for the following:
“At Wal-Mart, we know that being an efficient, profitable business and being a good steward of the environment are goals that can be accomplished together. And our environmental goals are simple and straightforward: to be supplied 100 percent by renewable energy; to create zero waste; and to sell products that sustain our resources and our environment. We believe that corporations can develop and implement practices that are good for the environment and good for business. We’re making amazing strides in this endeavor and we’re doing more every day.” (from www.Wal-Mart.com)
This has provided opportunities for new materials to be accepted by Wal-Mart and others for basic shipping platforms such as pallets. Wood has been the predominant material for pallets in most companies. Now, alternative materials, including paper pallets, are being accepted for applications such as point-of-purchase displays, due to their use of recycled materials, ease of recycling and how they contribute to the sustainability goals set by organizations. Recently, Schering-Plough made a number of point-of-purchase displays for Wal-Mart using a honeycomb-based paper pallet.
In their pledge to reduce solid waste, Wal-Mart is attempting to turn its waste into a raw material stream for the suppliers of its merchandise using a process known as closed-loop recycling. Wal-Mart currently sells collected waste paper to Georgia-Pacific Corp., who within a couple of weeks returns the “waste” paper as private-label paper towels and tissues.
Characteristics of Paper Pallets
Pallets made from corrugated or honeycomb paper have different structures, load-carrying capacities and characteristics than the pallet standards set by the material handling industry. This may possibly affect the equipment used to handle, ship or store the products being used for point-of-purchase displays and other applications.
Many designs and configurations of paper pallets can carry loads not thought possible a few years ago. Some pallets have been tested at over 15,000 pounds of static load capacity. In addition to their strength, light weight and ease of disposal, paper pallets can be put in the baler with corrugated cartons and they offer easy RFID tagging, potential marketing opportunities for the company displaying product, and a product-friendly deck for displaying/protecting goods.
When comparing the weight advantages of paper pallets, it is easy to see why air freight becomes a large opportunity. Saving 20 to 35 pounds is not uncommon, reducing the cost by allowing more product to be shipped at the same weight.
Paper pallets are also exempt from the phytosanitary regulations recently adopted by the U.S. Department of Defense regarding treatment of hardwood pallets in certain areas of the country. In addition, the International Standard for Phytosanitary Measures (ISPM 15) requires treatment of pallets for export to many countries around the world.
The standard was developed in response to the emerald ash borer (EAB), a small but destructive wood-boring beetle native to China and eastern Asia that targets ash trees. The EAB is responsible for the death or decline of more than 25 million ash trees in the United States. Beginning June 1, the USDA began regulating all hardwood pallets (not just those made of ash) at the point of manufacture, obligating all hardwood pallets made in Indiana, Ohio, Illinois, the lower peninsula of Michigan and parts of Maryland to be heat treated or chemically treated in compliance with ISPM 15.
Factors like these will continue to provide an impetus for change and opportunities within the material handling marketplace, and growth in demand for pallets made of paper and other materials is expected over the next several months. The paper pallet manufacturer must understand and meet the needs of both the end-user and the distributor. Will this necessitate a change in material handling or become a smooth transition? It can become the latter if everyone understands the needs and capabilities of the equipment and the product and works together for solutions.
|Meet the Author
John Burnsworth is president of EcoDuro, located in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and on the Web at www.ecoduro.com.