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Why Recycling In The Pallet Industry Works

Updated: Aug 11, 2022

Challenges For Current Supply Chain Problems

A major logistic challenge for supply chains is to hire appropriate staff members who understand the concept of sustainability. Another challenge for warehousing and transportation companies is to invest in the right technology that streamlines their operations. Partnering with recycling companies is now an essential component for manufacturers, particularly pallet production.

To remain competitive, suppliers and logistics firms need technology that connects them with cloud-based systems that allow for mobility and anytime/anywhere real-time access to digital resources. They must focus on using the appropriate data efficiently to save time and money. Building strong cybersecurity layers should also be a vital part of a streamlining plan.

More accurate data sharing and faster communication are at the core of why digital transformation provides economic and environmental advantages. Wood pallets help easily store and transport items, so the combination of people, pallets, and digital technology are powerful for running a competitive logistics operation.

Solutions From The Wood Pallet Industry

Recycling in the pallet industry has increased tremendously over the past few decades. The term "wood pallet recycling" refers to a wide range of processes that restore the material for reuse. The process involves recovery, sorting, and repairing a variety of pallet sizes and configurations. Grinding unusable pallet materials is another critical part of pallet recycling.

Wood pallets make up less than 2 percent of all wood that's landfilled. According to Virginia Tech researchers, that’s a significant decline since the 1990s, who led a group that presented studies at a 2018 NWPCA conference. In 1998 over 178 million wood pallets were landfilled, but by 2016 the volume had fallen to 25 million. In 2021,19 million. One reason: new A/I (Artificial Intelligence) cloud-based logistics, communications, GPS, and data-sharing technologies.

One of the most compelling findings was that the wooden pallet industry recycles a high rate of solid waste. Today the recycling rate of wooden pallets is about 95 percent, which outperforms many other materials. In 2020 out of 474 million recovered pallets, 390 million pallets were restored while the rest were recycled into other products.

Recycling demand is strong in the United States pallet market for popular pallet sizes (48x40 inches, 40x40, 42x42, 48x40, and 48x48). Pallet users are now much more comfortable using recycled pallets that have proven durable and efficient at a lower cost. The lifespan of a wood pallet is expected to be 3-5 years, but with a special finish, it can last longer.

Pallet Purposes And Processes

The wood pallet used in logistics for decades was initially designed to be compatible with forklifts. Since wooden pallets were low-cost, they were typically regarded as waste eventually. But as local jurisdictions began to adopt restrictions on solid waste disposal, demand grew for pallet manufacturers to recover and recycle old pallets.

Recycling turns out to be the most cost-effective solution at the disposal of many suppliers. Widespread adoption of the (48x48 inch) standardized pallet in the material handling industry helped escalate the product's recycling rate to its 95 percent level. Its omnipresence in the grocery industry is why the standard pallet is called the GMA (Grocery Manufacturers Association) pallet.

How Recyclers Operate

Once pallets get worn out, they often end up in a storage area for junk. A large recycler can visit your site with various vehicle sizes for hauling old pallets that can be reused, refurbished, or recycled. The recycler is collecting items that can be resold, such as pallets that need minimal repair, repairable pallets, and reusable components.

Typical equipment recyclers use include forklifts, automated sorting machines, and equipment for dismantling pallets. Automation can be used to sort pallets by size and cut and replace nails.

How Recyclers Avoid Landfills

Pallet recyclers help reduce landfill waste by recovering pallets at accumulation centers such as manufacturing facilities and distribution hubs. Many pallet recyclers are strategically located near urban or industrial areas. One of the ways recycling in the pallet industry grew in the 1990s was rooted in the planning of a national pallet tracking network by the Pallet Recycling Associates of North America, Inc. (PRANA).

Another dimension to recycling in the pallet industry is when a recycler operates directly with manufacturers to recycle specific items such as pallets. Hardwood and softwood lumber accounted for 4.1 to 5.0 billion board feet used for pallet production in 2016. While more hardwood than softwood is produced in the United States, 55 percent of pallet production is softwood.

New Vs. Recycled Material In Pallet Production

Over the years, pallet production from new materials has remained relatively flat. Meanwhile, the percent of recycled materials used in pallets has steadily increased. In 2016 out of the 849 million wood pallets produced, 341 were recycled. Most pallets are made of wood because it's flexible yet durable and easy to recycle.

Some of the different products made from recycling in the pallet industry include colored landscape mulch and wood pellets. Most of the wooden pallets that become degraded beyond repair end up getting shredded and turned into mulch, fuel, and material for particleboard.

Alternative Materials

Plastic has been a sustainable alternative to wood for recycling in the pallet industry. Plastic pallets last twice as long and only cost slightly more than wood, plus they can be recycled. The barrier to using more plastic in pallet production has mainly been higher costs.

Aluminum is also more expensive but used for certain specialized pallets due to its flexibility and durability. Material from pallets of any material can be used sustainably at landfills because it can contribute top-covers that help contain trash and toxic substances.


Strategic pallet recovery is the foundation of modern recycling in the pallet industry. Pallets exist to efficiently transport products from point to point in a supply chain. They add to further sustainability when they are recycled. Consider pallet companies that help facilitate a more sustainable business world and environment.

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