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New Technology Process Creates New Market Potential
New technology process may pave way for new type of recycled lumber products and pallets.

By Thom Labrie
Date Posted: 5/1/2000

There already are many different types, grades and categories of wooden pallets. In the recycled market, the industry supplies various grades of used pallets, repaired pallets and repair services, ‘new’ pallets made from scratch with completely recycled pallet parts, and ‘combo’ pallets that combine new components with used pallet parts. Of course, the term remanufactured is variously applied to pallets that have been repaired or rebuilt or manufactured anew from recycled lumber.

The pallet industry has an opportunity to take another step forward in improving the yield from its raw material base and increasing revenues from sales of existing and new products. It is also an opportunity to contribute to the development of environmentally responsible products and improved sustainability of our forest resources. The pallet industry could make achievements in both of these areas simply by improving on its success in recovering, recycling, and reusing wooden pallets.

Technology is available to establish a new type of recycled wooden pallet. The technology presents an opportunity for pallet recyclers to develop a new terminology to go along with it. The pallet may be best described either in terms of the type of lumber the new technology produces or the finished pallet itself. Either way, it is an opportunity for pallet recyclers to merchandise a new, value-added product to their customers.

The new technology includes a recovery machine and tooling that resurfaces pallet parts. When used deck boards and stringers are sized with this machine, the result is uniform components that can be used to assemble a new pallet made of recycled material. The big and obvious difference, however, is that removing a thin layer of wood in the resurfacing or sizing process makes the used components look nearly brand new. There is a clear, distinguishable, even dramatic difference between the dingy, discolored or dirty appearance of used pallet parts and the spotless, clean appearance of resurfaced pallet lumber. In a word, the lumber looks more like new than it does used. Recyclers may be able to market pallets made of resurfaced components even more effectively if they do not contain any plated stringers or companion stringers.

Pallets made of resurfaced wood components may even open new doors and markets for recyclers. How many prospective customers want pallets that cost less but have turned down used or recycled pallets because their appearance suggests that may not do the job for their unit load? This new class of pallet or pallet lumber could still cost less than new lumber and have a lot more eye appeal than a used or repaired pallet. Pallet recyclers also should point out to manufacturers that they can conserve natural resources and burnish their own corporate image by buying pallets made of recycled wood. With this technology, pallet companies can take sound pallet parts and add value to them by sizing them to uniform dimensions and improving their appearance. Both pallet recyclers and their customers can benefit.

Pallet recyclers would need to create a new nomenclature for this kind of used lumber and pallets. Although the term ‘remanufactured’ already is widely used, pallet recyclers might think of reserving this label for pallets and lumber made with this technology since the lumber has undergone a true remanufacturing process. Another option might be a term such as ‘reprocessed’ pallet components. Maybe the best way to merchandise this new type of wood and pallet to customers would be to categorize it as a new class or grade of used pallet.

In addition, with the right technology — i.e., recovery machine — other value-added products could be generated from traditional waste wood. Companies can take low-value waney and mis-sized stock and convert it to pallet parts. Dismantled deck boards that are too thin for pallets could be sized for crating slats. Broken stringers and deck boards can be converted into components for other recycled products.

Being able to reprocess lumber in this way, and effectively marketing a new type of wooden pallet, may spur pallet dismantling and lumber recovery operations. It may also create new opportunities and markets for buying and selling sound used pallet parts. Some companies already are producing flooring, millwork, and even furniture from used pallet materials. It would appear that the market for recovered pallet and crating components is growing and evolving into higher value consumer products. By expanding their operations and establishing an ability to provide a new, improved type of recycled wood, pallet recyclers can be an important link in this chain.

The forest products industry remains under attack from many misguided and misinformed environmental organizations. Like it or not, however, their message reverberates to a certain degree with consumers and companies that manufacture consumer products, from houses to other products made with wood. There seems to be increasing interest — both in buying and supplying — ‘politically correct’ lumber: lumber from trees that have been grown, harvested, and processed in ways that are environmentally and socially responsible.

This technology can help the pallet industry respond to this challenge. What better way to answer environmental critics than to show that the pallet industry and its customers are increasing their ability to recycle and reuse wood, recovering and using more valuable material from what was once considered mere waste?

For more information, contact Auburn Machinery at (800) 888-4244, fax (207) 783-4220, or e-mail tlabrie@auburnmachinery.com.

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