Companies such as CHEP manage many wood pallet configurations as a pooled resource with relatively long lifespan. These pallets are used and repaired many times to maximize the investment in material, cost, and design. Pallets also come in expendable variety that are typically used only once or a few times and then discarded. These pallets (also known as skids) consist of low quality wood that have little or no value commercially but instead are a byproduct of manufacturing other products. It is the expendable variety that we see in the back of grocery stores or the big box stores. Approximately 95% of all pallets are made of wood.
Every year, 1.9 billion wooden pallets are in circulation in the United States, transporting a variety of goods. Depending on the way the pallets are manufactured and managed, their life span and possibly their fate at end of useful life varies. Managed or pooled pallets are repaired multiple times to extend the life of the asset. They are sturdier to begin with to accommodate a relatively longer life. They may be broken down into parts to be reused to repair other pallets in the pool. On the other hand, expendable pallets are not as sturdy as reusable types. The material investment is not managed as an asset and hence has a higher probability of disposal via landfill, incineration, or as mulch.
Where do all the pallets go?
- Recycle – Wood from pallets is often mulched and used as landscape material. Some pallets are creatively recycled into useful household craft. It is estimated that 73% of these pallets are recycled in some form.
- Reuse – pallets are collected, repaired, and sold in a secondary market. 68.5 percent of recovered pallets are repaired for reuse, with another 11.9 percent reusable without repair. 
- Incinerate – some fraction of wood pallets end up at waste to energy (WtE) facilities where the materials are incinerated and the resultant energy is used for heat or electricity generation.
- Dispose – to landfill
Regardless of the pallets material, companies should consider life cycle costs associated with pallets as well as their environmental impact. Businesses are realizing just how important this is with the standards set forth with ISO 14001 and choosing suppliers with care.
Trayak’s COMPASS® (comparative packaging assessment), a LCA tool tailored for packaging design evaluation and improvement, applies a comprehensive model based on life cycle assessment (LCA) to quantify the environmental burdens associated with the entire packaging system needed to deliver a product to the retail shelf including all the intermediate steps.
Not only is COMPASS fast and easy to learn, it empowers the design process to evaluate multiple alternative packages simultaneously so companies can apply their sustainability priorities to packaging design before it goes to market. Contact us to learn more about the power of COMPASS and LCA to improve packaging designs.
 IFCO. , accessed 12/2015