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Plastic And Our Environment

22 Dec 2015

Millions of pallets are being used in the freight and warehousing industries at any point in time. Some are wooden and some are plastic, but all are essential for the movement and storage of goods. They also have an impact on the environment. Increasingly, people want to know that the choices they make are not harming the planet. Plastic is criticised as being more damaging to the environment than traditional wood pallets, but is it?

The Pros and the Cons

To start at the beginning: the manufacturing process. Making pallets from wood rejected from the lumbering process is a good use of a waste product. Plastic, on the other hand, is usually manufactured from oil, and it’s a complex and lengthy process. The plastic industry is working hard at improving the way that plastic is manufactured, developing new processes and new materials, but plastic still has a relatively high carbon footprint.

But that’s not the whole story. Pallets made from plastic, once manufactured, are a lot lighter than wooden pallets. If the cost of transport is reduced, so is the amount of energy used during transport. A lighter load means a lighter fuel bill and a lighter carbon footprint.

Plastic also has a longer lifespan than wood. Although wooden pallets are easy to repair if they get broken, they still succumb to wear and tear. Wooden pallets exposed to the weather or other damaging environments (such as damp) will probably last less than a year. Plastic, on the other hand, is tougher. It is unaffected by damp or weather and can be used and reused for years. This is important when considering the environmental consequences. Plastic may be less environmentally friendly to make, but you don’t have to make nearly as much of it. If you buy used plastic pallets, they will still last a very long time compared to wood.

Wooden pallets are more susceptible to mould, insects and dust than plastic, and more likely to cause injury to handlers from splinters, nails or simply being heavier. Using plastic is easier on the workforce, and the environment benefits from reduced use of harsh cleaning chemicals for fumigation or decontamination. Some countries are considering a ban on importing goods using wooden pallets because of the risk that local forests may be infected by mould or insects.

Whether wood or plastic, all pallets will eventually need to be replaced. Wood is obviously biodegradable and recyclable, but so is most modern plastic.

To Sum Up

Plastic pallets are more expensive to purchase but last longer; their environmental impact can be looked at in the same way. They are lighter and more durable, bring a return on an initial investment over the years. Wooden pallets cost less in financial and environmental terms to start with, but they are heavier, leading to higher fuel bills, and they need to be replaced much more frequently, so costs to the buyer and to the environment mount up. If the initial outlay is daunting, start with used plastic pallets ­ the money you save will allow you to replace them with new ones.

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