De-nailing the Pallet Innovation

Imagine cutting a tree every time you transport cargo!

Every year millions of trees are cut to make billions of wooden pallets. What’s worrying is that for sea and air cargo, these pallets can be used only once. 

Makes us wonder, why are we using an option that contributes to environmental damage every single year? Do we not have better alternatives for transporting our goods, especially with technological and infrastructural advancements happening globally? 

To answer these questions, we first need to look at the Pallet Industry’s progress over the years.  

How Pallets came to be

The history of pallets dates all the way back to Ancient Egypt, where there were indications of wooden skid-like structures used to store the construction material. 

In 1920, Clark Equipment Company, in the US, patented the first forklift. It was followed by Howard T. Hallowell who submitted the first patent for pallets under the name of Lift Truck Platform. But it was only in the 1960s, in Europe, that a uniform quality and size standard was established, which remains in use today. 

Currently, APAC countries source Pinewood, one of the most common materials used for pallets, from  countries in North and South America because of its scarcity. These imported wood-based pallets transport goods across the world. Amidst all this, the quantum of damage that’s done to the environment is just astonishing.

This brings us back to our original question – 

What are the alternatives?

Patents for plastic pallets were filed in as early as the 1960s. But it was only in the latter half of the 20th century that plastic pallets picked up momentum owing to their superior benefits over wooden pallets. 

Plastic pallets can carry much more weight depending on the quality of plastic granules used as raw material. They also last for more than 3 years, which takes away the headache of re-purchasing pallets, especially for warehousing.

But every benefit comes with a price and the same is with plastic pallets, too. They are typically 3 to 5 times costlier than their wooden counterparts. The pricing is not the biggest problem here though. APAC countries need to solve the establishment of a Reverse Supply Chain Model which ensures that these pallets do not end up in dump yards, further adding to the problem of plastic waste.

Wooden and plastic pallets, along with lesser known options like metal and corrugated paper pallets, are not in line with the UN’s climate change goals because of material sourcing and non-recyclability constraints. 

But there’s hope. Early 2010 saw research done to replicate the process of ‘Particle Board’ manufacturing for pallets as a single mould using waste wood.  

Newsflash! The technology is market ready and already being tested by few players worldwide. The pallet manufactured using this method is called Compressed Wood Pallet, with features that cannot be missed:  

  • Greater load carrying capacity than the conventional wooden pallet  
  • No damage to packaging due to rough edges  
  • Saves more than 50% stacking height compared to both wooden and plastic Pallets  
  • Recyclability of pallets as a raw material  
  • No trade-off in features vs cost  
  • No need for Chemical treatment as per ISPM-15 regulation under IPCC 
Image Source: Pixabay

Stacking Comparison of Conventional Wooden (left) and Compressed Wooden Pallet (right)

While all these features look fantastic, there’s more! 

Based on my extensive research, apart from using waste wood as a raw material, other elements with similar technical properties can be used to make Compressed Pallets, too. Imagine using waste material for manufacturing pallets which, after their use, can be recycled to make more pallets. How exciting and impressive is this technology!

The Logistics industry has seen several advancements with Information Technology, aimed at process improvements in document sharing and storage, shipment/freight tracking and queue management, inspection and quality checks, traceability and visibility. But it’s high time that innovations are made on the hardware front as well, to check our impact on the environment.

I am driven to introduce the Industry to the alternative they never had!  

Credits

Author

Abhijeet Parmar, Founder of Senergy Pallet Pvt. Ltd, is working to introduce Eco-friendly Logistics Pallets in Asia-Pacific Region. He aims to bring the focus on outstanding clean-tech startups of India. ‘It’s not just that we have a huge talent pool in our country but it is also the need of the hour’, says Abhijeet.

Edited by Ayesha Tari 

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