Surprising Materials Being Used to Make Pallets

Unusual materials used to make pallets

You can make pallets out of what? Making pallets from new and innovative waste materials is an intriguing opportunity for entrepreneurs looking for a way to upcycle any number of residual materials into cost-effective products. 

The idea of making low-cost pallets out of accessible items is nothing new. Historically, pallets have been manufactured from material available in the local marketplace - typically lower grade lumber. Looking back, pallets have been manufactured from material available - typically lower grade softwood lumber in the West, and hardwood lumber in the eastern part of the U.S. 

Entrepreneurs, however, are looking to other materials that can allow them to create a low-cost product that also achieves recycling aspirations, and which avoids the harvest of timber. And the equation is changing, as companies gradually place more value in upcycling materials or using ISPM-15 exempt material. Both of these considerations can steer buyers towards non-timber pallets if the cost is relatively competitive. 

With a staggering annual production in the U.S. alone of over 500 million pallets, even a small slice of that market could translate into an important opportunity for upcycling waste, not to mention the conceivable creation of a profitable business. Here are some of the surprising materials that are being used or being developed to make shipping pallets, although I suspect there are many other scrap materials  that could also be used to make pallets. 

1
Pallets Made From Coconut Husks

Coconut pallet
Coconut pallet. Brandon Tabiolo

 According to Cocopallet.com, a Netherlands-based producer of pallets made from coconut waste, 70 billion coconuts are produced annually, while less than 15 percent of the husk material is utilized. Present applications for this waste material include flooring and brushes. Around 85 percent of waste material remains, however.

As such, this material presents the opportunity for coconut-based pallets. The material is molded under pressure, using a natural binder to help form the pallets. Cocopallets produces nestable pallets, which are ISPM-15 exempt. In other words, such pallets do not need to be heat treated to prevent the international movement of insects that could result in degradation or destruction of forests in the country of destination.

2
Pallets Made From Old Carpeting

scrap carpet nylon pallet
Scrap carpet nylon pallet. BanksPhotos

 Applied Distribution Resources (ADR) claims to produce an extremely durable nylon pallet produced from nylon material recycled during the process of recycling old carpets. Amazingly long lasting, ADR reports that its pallets have been in service for 15 years, with only one report of a pallet breaking, in spite of thousands being produced. The company states that because the pallet was being used in a classified military application, the cause of failure has never been made public.

The ADR nylon pallet is expensive to purchase compared to other alternatives, but the company reports that it provides great value where the application requires repeated reuse. ADR offers a lease program to help customers enjoy the benefit without capitalizing the cost of the pallet, translating into a low cost-per-use. Although the company has been in business for many years, the adoption of the nylon pallet by the market has been slow, in spite of its durability, likely due to its premium price. 

3
Pallets Made From Banana Stems

Pallets made from banana stems
Pallets made from banana stems. enviromantic

Banana stems can also be produced into pallets, according to a recent entrant to the pallet market. Yellow Pallet is another Netherlands-based company that creates pallets from ​this unusual material. Its production systems are designed to press or extrude the organic debris from banana harvesting into materials that can be assembled into pallets.

Given that 21 million pallets of bananas are shipped annually, it seems like there should be a potential market for those pallets to use for the shipping of bananas. Check out this video from Yellow Pallet to see more.

4
Pallets Made from Hemp

 Biofiba is a company which has focused its efforts on creating a shipping pallet made from hemp. Biofiba is an extruded biodegradable simulated wood. 

The Biofiba​ material is formed from naturally grown hemp in combination with a compostable biopolymer resin which biodegrades into a harmless environmental compost at the end of its lifespan.

Biofiba produces its simulated planks through a unique process that utilizes high pressure and heat during the manufacturing process.renders the material inputs as inert and toxic free in compliance with ISPM-15

5
Pallets Made from Cigarette Butts

With an estimated 45 million cigarette smokers in the U.S., there should be enough butts to generate a lot of pallet material. TerraCycle, a company that has built a business model around helping companies to find solutions for dealing with difficult to recycle materials, says that it harvests old cigarette filters to make products such as pallets. Filters are made from cellulose acetate, a key ingredient of plastic. 

Terracycle collects discarded cigarettes and melts the filters, mixing them with other material to make plastic pellets, which are then used to create a variety of products, including playing cards, and apparently pallets as well, according to reports from the company in 2012. 

“We’re particularly jazzed about the pallets, because those cigarette manufacturers could literally be shipping new cigarettes made on pallets made from cigarette filters,” a company spokesperson said at the time.

6
Pallets Made from Wood Chips

Litco International

 Of all the materials presented in this article, the one that is used to make pallets on a mass production scale is that of wood chips. Pressed wood pallets are widely used in industry. In the U.S., they are manufactured by Litco International, although they are used internationally as well. 

Presswood pallets, like some of the other materials featured in this article, are ISPM-15 exempt and therefore can be used for international trade without fear of being detained by customs officials because of wood pest infestation. Presswood pallets are also popular for domestic applications. They are available in a range of sizes, and are nestable, which provides a range of benefits, including superior cube efficiency for empty pallet storage and transportation, as well as with respect to four-way entry for crowded loading dock conditions. 

7
Pallets Made of Glass

RM2 pallet
RM2 pallet shown at PACK EXPO show. Rick LeBlanc

Over the years, several companies have tried to successfully launch a fiberglass pallet, but the entry of RM2 marks the latest and by far the most deeply funded initiative to carve a share of the pallet market. RM2 actively produced pallets in Canada until mid-2016. It is currently transitioning its production to China. The purpose of the move is to produce its pallet substantially more cheaply, As well as to gain proximity to the Chinese market. 

In terms of manufacturing, pallet components are produced through the pultrusion process. Fiberglass strands are drawn together and impregnated with polyurethane, pulled through a die to create profiles of very stiff, durable material. Those profiles are cut to length to form the components used to assemble pallets.

It Is Hard to Compete With Wood Pallets

In spite of entrepreneurial efforts to create a presence in the pallet industry, few products have yet to establish themselves as viable alternatives. Presswood pallets stand out as one product that has in fact become established in the marketplace. Given the weight of financing behind the RM2 fiberglass pallet, it has already established a degree of market penetration. It is important to remember that for an innovative material pallet to succeed, it must be more interesting to prospective buyers than a wood pallet. For many decision makers, the decision still often comes down to which option can carry the load most inexpensively. Increasingly, however, the value proposition for pallet buyers is also influenced by factors such as environmental concerns, including ISPM-15 and the opportunity to divert solid waste through recycling of material into pallets.