Measuring Sustainability: How Do Wood Pallets Stack Up?

There are more than 1.8 billion pallets in service in the United States each day, and ninety-three percent of these pallets are made from wood. That staggering statistic begs the question of just how sustainable wooden pallets really are. Luckily, we know who to ask.

Researchers at the Forest Products Laboratory (FPL) have set out to investigate the life cycle of wooden pallets in an effort to help manufacturers keep up with the demand for environmentally friendly pallets.

Wooden pallets used for shipping purposes in the United States (NWPCA 2016).

Wooden pallets used for shipping purposes in the United States (NWPCA 2016).

Supervisory Research Forest Products Technologist Rick Bergman said the life-cycle assessment (LCA) study has a number of goals and benefits.

“LCA is a method used to measure the environmental impacts. For example, greenhouse gas emissions that result from the production of a product over its entire life cycle,” Bergman said. “From the extraction of raw materials through production, use, recycling, and ultimately, disposal of the product.”

Researchers are also using the information to help the National Wooden Pallet and Container Association (NWPCA), with whom FPL has a memorandum of understanding, develop future environmental product declarations that will result in more sustainable pallet use, and pinpoint areas of success and improvement within the production market.

Bergman and his team will survey a number of pallet manufacturing facilities to collect the assessment data and plan to present the findings at a future conference on LCA or green building.

To learn more about this project and the life of wooden pallets, read the full Research in Progress report.

Interestingly, this isn’t FPL’s first foray into the world of pallets. Click here for a historical perspective dating back to the 1930’s and a great video showing just how monumentally “pallets move the world.”

Blog post by Francesca Yracheta