Improving sustainability in pallet production has been a goal of pallet manufacturers and logistics professionals alike for years. The search for environmentally friendly options to reduce carbon emissions and reduce waste has led to the development of plastic pallets as an alternative to wooden pallets, but there’s still more work to be done.
Carbon footprint reduction occurs only when the number of resources required to manufacture pallets is less than the number of resources consumed through the life cycle of a pallet. Currently, there is debate over whether plastic is more sustainable and less wasteful than wood. Some believe that manufacturing plastic pallets requires more resources overall compared to the raw materials saved.
As a sustainable solution, plastic pallets have been put forth as the answer to wood pallet usage. Proponents of plastic materials used in pallet production claim that the long-term impact of plastic is less than that of wood because plastic pallets tend to last longer. This is partially true, depending on how a pallet is used, but what lies at the heart of the debate is whether plastic manufacturing is more harmful than repeated wood pallet manufacturing.
The sourcing of raw materials in the manufacture of wooden pallets is what is truly problematic for the logistics industry. If you’re reducing the environmental impact of your manufacturing operation, you’re going to have a hard time achieving your goals if you’re sourcing more and more trees for wood to make pallets.
More trees can be planted, but new trees take many years to grow and become ready for harvest. Plastic can be manufactured as needed, and it doesn’t suffer from things like rot. Plastic pallets are also lighter than wood in most cases, meaning less fuel is required to transport the same amount of items.
On the other hand, plastic as a material takes a long time to break down in the environment. This means that plastic pallets that end up in landfills may be more harmful than biodegradable wood products. Wood can also stand up to some forms of abuse that plastic cannot, leading some to wonder whether plastic is really a long-term solution.
This goes back to the argument about what counts as sustainable in pallet manufacturing. How do you measure the environmental cost of using wood over plastic? Do you count pollutants and energy usage that come from the making of plastic, or do you count the cost involved in discarding worn pallets?
Although the debate over whether plastic is a more sustainable and less wasteful choice may not be settled anytime soon, there are some things pallet manufacturers can do in the meantime to create a positive impact and reduce waste. Below are several steps your pallet manufacturing business can take to become more sustainable:
You probably already knew this, but almost all pallets can be recycled. Even pallets that might be considered trash due to product damage can often be partially salvaged through recycling. This is part of what’s known as a circular economy in which items are recycled or refurbished to extend their life cycles.
Pallet recycling or material recycling from pallets that have outlived their usefulness ultimately reduces the number of raw materials needed to manufacture pallets. As an added bonus, recycling saves pallet manufacturers money in most cases, allowing them to pass savings onto customers in the form of lower prices. In turn, pallet manufacturers who recycle can operate more competitively.
Another way of improving sustainability in pallet production while also working to improve supply chain productivity is to use the software when manufacturing or loading pallets. Today’s manufacturing and logistics software can take advantage of machine learning to intelligently manage processes. Using this software, you may be able to reduce the number of pallets needed for a job or reduce the amount of raw materials needed during manufacturing.
Logistics software that introduces machine learning can also reduce the number of pallets in use through intelligent routing. This type of software can be used to track individual pallets, items, and shipments across the world to determine when and where pallets are needed. This tracking allows companies to order pallets as needed, and it helps pallet manufacturers keep up with demand without building too many pallets that end up sitting around wasting space.
Pallet manufacturers may also consider re-evaluating their processes. You may find that there are more efficient ways of doing things that result in less waste. Manufacturing equipment may be able to be re-tooled to produce pallets more efficiently, or loading operations can be changed to get more use out of each piece of wood.
Also, consider your use of water and electricity in the making of pallets. While wood is a renewable resource that can promote supply chain sustainability, you may outweigh the environmental benefits of using wood if your manufacturing equipment uses a huge amount of water and electricity.
Although water is technically renewable, where rain falls is somewhat inconsistent, meaning refilling reservoirs used to feed municipal water supplies isn’t always predictable. Additionally, electricity can be generated on demand, but it isn’t a renewable resource in the way that trees are renewable. Electricity is usually generated from power plants that rely on fossil fuels and resources like coal.
Some pallet manufacturers offer a huge variety of sizes that feature customizable options. If these pallets don’t sell but get manufactured anyway, the materials used to make them end up being wasted. If your manufacturing company builds a wide variety of pallets, take stock of what sells and what does not.
While you want to be able to offer customers what they need, you may find that your company is spending resources on pallets that don’t sell. To remedy this, try to streamline your offerings and change the way you sell them on your pallet business website. Perhaps selling pre-made and standardized sizes is a less-wasteful route that allows you to still sell custom sizes at a premium while improving sustainability in pallet production.
Sustainable pallet manufacturing and supply chain management are jobs for everyone involved in these industries. By embracing the circular economy mindset, pallet manufacturers and logistic professionals alike can promote a cleaner environment and lower energy usage at the same time. You may even save some money in the process, allowing your pallet manufacturing business to grow and thrive in the years to come.
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