Wood is recyclable. The recycling of wood pallets and wood packaging material is being done at a very high level throughout North America.
Recycling takes place throughout the product use cycle. New pallet manufacturing is only one part of how pallets are used. The pallet usage cycle also involves recovery and reuse of pallets that are in good condition as well as the repair and reconstruction of damaged pallets. Pallets can also be dismantled and the lumber used to remanufacture new pallets.
With the application of grinding, wood pallets and components that are at the end of their useful life end up in fiber based products such as landscape mulch, animal bedding, soil enhancements, wood particle board or are used in bioenergy.
This model of reuse delivers wood packaging materials and pallets that make multiple trips before they reach the end of their useful life, therefore minimizing waste generation and reducing overall consumption of wood fiber.
According to new research conducted by Virginia Tech and the USDA Forest Service, in 2016, 508 million new pallets were manufactured. In the same year, 341 million pallets were recovered out of which only 25.39 million wooden pallets were landfilled in 2016, resulting in a recycling rate of 95%. Only 1.8% of all wood landfilled by a MSW (municipal and solid waste) and 5.6% landfilled by a C&D (construction and demolition) landfill were wood pallets.1 The extremely high rate of recycling could be attributed to the increased environmental awareness of companies and the emerging zero landfill policies that prevent companies from sending packaging materials to landfills.
Meanwhile, the number of separated and recycled pallets increased from 38 million to 41 million which means that landfills see an opportunity in recovering and recycling wood pallets into value adding products such as mulch, repaired pallets or biofuel.
Use of recovered wood in pallet manufacturing is growing at a high rate while use of new lumber for wood pallets has shifted slightly. Lumber usage between hardwood and softwood are estimated at 4.1 and 5.0 billion board feet of hardwood and softwood lumber used for pallet production in 2016, for a ratio of 45% hardwood and 55% softwood.
To claim that a product is recyclable there should be recycling facilities available to at least 60 percent of the consumers where the product is sold.2 In the United States there is a comprehensive network of pallet recyclers serving the industrial and retail marketplace that far exceeds the 60% requirement.3
In Canada there are in excess of 80 recycling companies servicing every market sector in the country.4
Related Papers & Sources
- VA Tech Research Shows a Whopping 95% of Wooden Pallets are Recycled (2018)
- The Current State of Wood Reuse and Recycling in North America and Recommendations for Improvements (Dovetail Partners, May 2013)
- Pallet Re-Use and Recycling Saves High Value Material from Landfills (College of Natural Resources, Engagement Matters)
- Value-Added Wood Products Marketing Guide for Manufacturers and Entrepreneurs (USDA January 2010)
- Wood and Carbon Footprint (Woodworks 2011)
- Wood Pallets and Landfills – Status and Opportunities for Economic Recovery and Recycling (USDA Forest Service & Virginia Tech, 1998)
- The Extraordinary Life Cycle of Pallets (March 2018 PalletCentral) by Laszlo Horvath, PhD, Virginia Tech; Brad Gething, PhD, NWPCA; Phil Araman, USDA Forest Service
- US Federal Trade Commission Environmental Claims: Summary of the Green Guides