Study suggests high wooden pallet recycling rate

Preliminary results of a research project conducted by Virginia Tech says 95 percent of pallets are being recycled.

Preliminary results of a research project conducted by Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, Virginia, on the disposal of wood pallets at landfill sites reveal that 95 percent of wooden pallets are being recycled. 

The landfill avoidance study was independently conducted at Virginia Tech over two years. Both municipal and solid waste (MSW) and construction and demolition (C&D) landfill facilities were surveyed to better understand how pallets were being handled at these facilities.

According to the study, the number of pallets entering the landfill reduced by 86 percent for MSW and C&D facilities. Environmental awareness, limited space and a desire to be more waste efficient have driven many of these facilities to sort and recover certain types of debris. The overall presence of wood pallets at landfill facilities also significantly decreased.

"Our industry is thrilled that the data proves the wood packaging sector, more than any other, is closing in on zero-waste," Larry Howell of Cottondale Wood Products, Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and Alexandria, Virginia-based National Wooden Pallet and Container Association (NWPCA) chair, says. "Wood pallets are 100 percent recyclable, and the newest research from Virginia Tech shows that our industry has the highest recovery rate at 95 percent compared to other prevalent materials."

"Data of this kind had not been collected since 1998," Brad Gething, NWPCA director of science and technology integration, says. "The wood packaging sector has long been touting their recyclable efforts for decades, and now the data proves it."

Wooden pallets get used, reused and when they are no longer useful, they are converted to mulch, animal bedding or biofuel.

"Of those wooden pallets that arrive at landfills, both MSW and C&D facilities recycle even further," Laszlo Horvath, assistant professor at Virginia Tech, says. "The results show that landfill facilities have increased their wood and wood pallet recovery areas over the past two decades. For MSW facilities, this number increased from 33 percent to 62 percent of facilities, while for C&D facilities, the number increased from 27 percent to 45 percent."

"It's great news for our environment, as well as the public. Landfill facilities provide recycled by-products, such as mulch, to their local communities," Brent McClendon, NWPCA president and CEO, says. "In addition to being recycled, wooden pallets designed using the pallet design system are certified by the USDA [U.S. Deparmtent of Agriculture] as 100 percent biobased products as part of their BioPreferred program."

The preliminary results of the landfill avoidance study are being submitted for peer-reviewed journals. The research project was funded in part by the USDA Forest Service, Washington, and The Pallet Foundation.

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