Transport Packaging: Pallet-able Solutions

Selecting the right pallet keeps costs down. As sustainability enters the picture, the decision becomes more complicated.

Steel: Durable, Recyclable

A growing number of companies are evaluating the use of green materials in their transport packaging processes.

According to Steve Letnich, vice president of sales and marketing for York, Pa.-based Worthington Steelpac, steel pallets have social, environmental and financial benefits. Simply evaluating current materials with an eye toward green can reveal previously hidden financial benefits.

Steel pallets, Letnich suggests, are durable and often complete more turns than other pallet materials, resulting in lower costs and less use of raw materials. Because they are suitable for use in automated systems, steel pallets often save labor costs.

Since steel pallets are recyclable and companies earn money when the product is scrapped, use of this pallet material has environmental and financial benefits.

Since green materials also carry financial benefits, including these materials in the decision-making process has now become less of a choice and more of a responsibility. Further developing green practices within supply chains not only benefits the environment, but makes financial sense. During these tough economic times, no company can afford to overlook efficient, socially responsible, cost-cutting measures.

Study Backs Reusables
Maybe it didn’t seem like the EPA was going out on a limb when it announced last year that reuse could conserve valuable natural resources and reduce water pollution, air pollution and greenhouse gases.

But, one independent testing house decided to look into the numbers. And, what it found was eye opening.

Steel pallets offer
Steel pallets offer environmental and financial benefits, according to Worthington Steelpac.

Franklin Associates, which studies the ecological impact of products, was commissioned recently to perform an independent assessment of the carbon footprint of returnable crates versus that of corrugated and shrink film one-way packaging. Their findings on returnable packaging appeared partly to confirm the EPA’s earlier statement.

Franklin staff performed a life-cycle assessment, which includes extraction of raw materials from the earth, material and container manufacturing, outgoing transportation of containers and backhauling of empty plastic shells. The three categories measured were energy, solid waste and greenhouse gas.

Two scenarios were tested to achieve the most accurate results: The first provided the exact measure of the recyclable content and life cycle of both packaging products. The alternative scenario provided a more favorable position for one-way corrugated packaging and a less-favorable scenario for reusable plastic crates, relative to recyclable content and loss.

• In the first scenario, reusable/returnable plastic crates produced 60% less total energy, 91% less total waste and 64% less total global warming potential than the corrugated packaging. • In the alternative scenario, the life span of the reusable/ returnable crate was shortened and loss rates were doubled, as opposed to the corrugated boxes, which were given improved recyclable rates. The results showed that reusable plastic crates still produced 9% less total energy, 81% less total waste and generated 32% less total global warming potential.

Both scenarios examined by Franklin Associates suggest that reusable/returnable assets are less damaging to the environment than available corrugated options.

The study was funded by Rehrig Pacific, a Los Angeles-based manufacturer of reusable/returnable products

Presswood: Import Compliant

When stacked alongside an ever more regulated shipping market, growing worldwide concern over environmental issues, plus the inherent need to maximize value on every expenditure, selecting pallets for shipping might seem one of the easier issues in material handling.

Interstate and international shipping is increasing at a time when regulation of pallets and other shipping materials is on the rise. In the U.S., demand for pallets is estimated to reach 1.5 billion units in 2012. Wood pallets, meanwhile, are coming under regulatory scrutiny.

That is why, according to Gary Sharon, vice president of Litco International Inc., many are turning to presswood pallets.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service expanded its crackdown on regulated materials in 2006. The move was intended to stall the artificial spread of the emerald ash borer, an insect considered an extremely destructive pest and blamed for the death and decline of more than 25 million ash trees.

For similar reasons, the ISPM 15 international standard phytosanitary measure was passed in March 2002. It requires shippers to mark and treat packaging materials made from raw wood. Specifically, ISPM 15 addresses the need to treat wood materials of a thickness greater than six millimeters.

Canada and the U.S. currently transport wood-based packaging between each other without treatment. But, now, discussions indicate that the arrangement will soon change and that the ISPM 15 requirements will be implemented.

Presswood pallets
Presswood pallets adhere to phytosanitary requirements, says Litco International.

The import regulation affects all wood packaging material, requiring that it be treated with heat or fumigated with methyl bromide and marked with a seal of compliance, commonly known as a “bug stamp.” And, companies that treat wood packaging according to the standard must also be licensed by the national plant protection office.

While necessary, all of these preventative measures take time and money.

Presswood pallets, says Sharon, have no such stringent shipping regulations. According to ISPM 15, presswood pallets are considered “processed wood,” as they are precision molded under high heat and pressure. They are made from pre- and post-consumer wood waste and synthetic resins. Presswood pallets are bug, bark and mold free, and resistant to moisture, according to Litco.

ISPM 15 exempts “processed wood” because the high-heat manufacturing process burns out all infestation.

“Presswood pallets are easy to use because they require no additional treatment or certification stamp,” says Sharon. “This makes them a hassle-free option for domestic shipping between the U.S. and Canada and export shipping to all other international trading partners.”

Presswood pallets also reduce costs because they are nestable. They can be stacked within themselves, requiring less space, reduced unloading time and lower handling costs.

Presswood pallets can be a green alternative. Litco’s Inca brand is Silver Level C2C (cradle-to-cradle) certified as sustainable by McDonough Braungart Design Chemistr y (MBDC).

“Made from recycled materials and completely recyclable at the end of their lifecycle, presswood pallets are environmentally preferred because they help reduce the amount of solid waste that ends up in landfills,” says Sharon.

Plastic: Lightweight, Long Lasting

Plastic pallets have several advantages, according to an independent study carried out by the global consulting firm Environmental Resource Management. They last longer, weigh less, and don’t need paint or chemical treatments.

Since a plastic pallet can handle 100 trips, it reduces the amount of greenhouse gas emissions released into the atmosphere.

Orbis, an Oconomowoc, Wisc.- based supplier of plastic, reusable containers, pallets, totes and dunnage, offers a calculator on its Web site that lets shipping companies tally how many acres of trees and gallons of water they would save by switching to plastic pallets.

Plastic pallets are also dimensionally stable, consistent in weight and non-porous. In some cases, according to Orbis, they are lighter than wood and their smooth and contoured construction is free of nails, splinters and rust.

Plastic pallets, however, are a petrochemical creation—all plastic. Top-of-the-line pallets use virgin plastic, which isn’t the most environmentally friendly. The bulk of emissions from the plastic pallets come during production rather than daily use. To get around that, pallet makers have launched

P1210C Blue Shield
The P1210C Blue Shield plastic pallet from CHEP, a pallet and container pooling provider, is suitable for high-speed automation systems.

greener blends, from 15% recycled to 100% recycled plastic.

RPA Chairman Emphasizes Reuse
Reuse isn’t just an environmental buzzword.

Bob Klimko, chairman of the Reusable Packaging Association (RPA), predicts the concept will be embraced in 2009 by businesses in an effort to reduce costs throughout the supply chain and reduce damage to the environment.

The RPA defines reusable packaging as pallets, containers and dunnage designed for reuse within a supply chain. These items are constructed for multiple trips. Due to their reusable nature, they can offer a rapid return on investment and a lower cost per trip than single-use packaging products, says the RPA, as well as efficient storage, handling and distribution of products throughout the supply chain. “

The recession is driving businesses to reduce costs wherever possible,” says Klimko. “At the same time, there is a global awareness that businesses must truly change their practices that deplete the earth’s resources.”

Many businesses have already embraced ways to reduce end-user packaging, cutting down on the amount of energy and waste that is expended. Klimko predicts more companies this year will look to achieve similar savings in transport packaging.

“Many innovative companies, like John Deere, the Kroger Co. and Pepsico, have already successfully implemented comprehensive reusable packaging systems,” says Klimko. “Today, businesses are more receptive than ever to reusable packaging systems as they look for new ways to reduce costs.”

The RPA is promoting the postive impact of reusable packaging systems on sustainability initiatives. The association provides businesses with examples, case studies, measurement tools and resources to help them meet their sustainable packaging goals.

In addition, the RPA says it will seek to broaden its membership, bringing in end users, government agencies, reusable packaging providers and suppliers, university leaders and key environmental groups.

“Undoubtedly, the concept of reuse will be top of mind with businesses in 2009, and the RPA is prepared to provide the tools and strategies they will need to implement secondary reusable packaging systems,” says Klimko.

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