Using Diverted Landfill Waste to Make Sustainable Plastic Pallets
15 Jun 2017
Plastic is a major part of modern life. In Australia alone, over 1.5m tonnes of plastic, derived from crude oil, will be consumed annually. This figure does not include packaging or finished products which have been imported. The majority of this ends up in landfill or, even worse, in the ocean, where it will take centuries to degrade. A sobering study recently concluded that the amount of plastic in the ocean in terms of weight will equal that of fish by 2050. There are many important measures which we must take to reduce consumption – for example, by avoiding the use of disposable plastic carrier bags. But how will recycling and, in particular, environmentally friendly plastic pallets play a part?
Despite the huge quantities consumed, a mere 300,000 tonnes of plastic is recycled each year in Australia. Approximately 50 per cent of this is sent away to be processed, while another 20 per cent is turned into pellets before being also shipped overseas. The problem is that not all plastic can easily be recycled easily. For example, those used in electronics, thermoset plastics, cannot currently be recycled, although scientists are trying hard to discover ways to change this. The recycling process for those plastics which can be recycled is often long and complex, starting with the difficult job of sitting through the waste. And, of course, there is little point in the whole recycling process itself if people are unwilling to make changes and start to purchase recycled items rather than new ones. What needs to now change is our entire mentality – the whole economy. Large supermarket chains and other organisations must lead by example, helping shoppers reduce waste through their buying decisions.
Range International is an Australian company hoping to make a difference to plastic pallets sustainability. The company uses mixed plastics recovered from unsorted landfill in Indonesia. It uses a process of intense pressure and heat to mould the plastics into shipping pallets. There are two environmental benefits to this process: replacement of the traditional wooden pallets used by the shipping and transportation industries, and the diversion of landfill waste itself. Pinpointing the shipping market was a very deliberate move by Range International. More than five billion new pallets are manufactured every year, and a huge 93 per cent of these are constructed from timber, a scarce resource. Wooden pallets frequently require fumigation and heat treatments before they are shipped and discarded after just one journey. The chopping down of one tree is prevented by every 25 plastic recycled pallets bought.
Plastic Pallets Good for Environment
It is possible to purchase pallets made from new plastics. However, these are typically more expensive than timber alternatives. Range’s pallets, in contrast, sell for the same prices as the timber variety. In addition, Range will also encourage customers to reuse their plastic pallets, resell them to other customers or reprocess them into new recycled pallets. It is only with the reintroduction of plastics in this way that the they can become an essential part of a circular, as opposed to linear, economy.