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Pallet Recycling Continues Its Growth and Significance
NWPCA Recyclers: Pallet recyclers gather for annual NWPCA Recycling Seminar, Exposition and Plant Tour to share information and visit L&R Pallet Services.

By Dr. Ed Brindley
Date Posted: 2/1/2001

Denver, ColoradoóIn the 24 years since I first started building strong relationships with friends in the pallet industry, many things have changed dramatically. Into and throughout most of the 80s, changes were gradual. The industry was growing and maturing, but the basics of pallet building and the industry structure were relatively stable.

Pallet recycling held solid promise during this period, but it continued to be labor intensive. An association just for recyclers started in the 90s but was absorbed into the National Wooden Pallet and Container Association by the middle of the decade. In recent years the NWPCA has had at least one recycling meeting each year. Its annual meetings, Pallet Summit meetings, and other special regional meetings all have focused recycling program tracks. Association officers and members of the board of directors reflect heavily the influence of recycling in the pallet world.

So, the annual NWPCA recycling meeting, held in Denver on October 12-14, drew over 150 people. While attendees enjoy themselves as they network with each other, these meetings are not just social events. They are serious business opportunities that help progressive recyclers, both association members and nonmembers, learn how to do what they do better. The attendance at this 12th NWPCA recycling meeting was greater than it might seem because almost all delegates were recyclers or machinery suppliers; there was not a large group of spouses and children swelling the registration ranks.

The Recycling Council and Trade Promotion Committee both met on Wednesday to take advantage of the fact that so many committee members were already planning to travel to Denver. A welcome reception on Wednesday preceded the Thursday tour of L&R Pallet Service and the Coors Brewery.

L&R, probably the largest pallet recycler in Colorado, gave attendees a look into using more automation. Over 90% of L&Rís production is in 48x40s, with other sizes and combo pallets rounding out most of its product mix. Its main line is a VF Automation system that was featured three years ago in the Enterprise, February 1998. MSI dismantling equipment and an Industrial Resources smaller line rounded out most of the machinery.

L&R and VF Automation teamed up to provide a delicious barbecue lunch which all enjoyed. An afternoon tour of the Coors brewery was interesting and ended with an opportunity to sample the companyís products. Another reception was followed by an open evening to enjoy your restaurant of choice.

Friday the program portion of the meeting kicked off with a breakfast in the exhibit hall and an action filled presentation by Bill "Guerrilla" Gallagher of Guerrilla Sales & Marketing. Bill focused heavily on advertising in his marketing presentation. He provided much food for thought. While the pallet industry hasnít heavily used conventional advertising to draw new customers, setting our minds on an advertising and marketing track may help us accommodate better to the changing business environment.

One of the strongest aspects of NWPCA recycling meetings is how well industry people provide program material that definitely relates to our industry. Erik Bronstein, president of Premium Pallet Company, Philadelphia, Penn., talked about how he has mechanized his lumber reclaiming area. Erik complemented his slides with firsthand details about how he has handled lumber reclaiming.

Dr. Ed Brindley, publisher of the Pallet Enterprise and Pallet Profile Weekly, presented the results of a recycling survey that the Profile had conducted in September, 2000. The recycling industry continues to grow, but there are some signs that future growth may not continue matching that of the past. The primary object of this study was to examine the issue of core supplies. Tight pallet core supplies had been a fact of life, but concerns about apparent core supply improvements and what they might mean were addressed. Survey results were published in the November 2000 issue of the Enterprise. The question about what recyclers do with Chep pallets that inadvertently get on recyclersí yards precipitated numerous discussions after Edís presentation was completed.

Friday afternoon, a set of concurrent sessions featured three presentations. James Ruder, vice president of L&R Pallet Service, explained why L&R automated the plant we had visited on Thursday and the processes they went through in evaluating alternative options. Don Black, vice president operations for Pallet Services, Inc., Anacortes, Wash., explained how the NWPCA monitors legislative activity on a state-by-state basis to identify potential bills that might impact pallet recycling. Jamie Gilbert, president of Custom Pallet & Crating, Charlotte, N.C., presented the cost accounting spreadsheet his company developed to help recyclers better understand their costs and how they can use them for internal decision making and selling.

The afternoon session concluded with three roundtables. John Swenby, president of Paltech Enterprises, Urbana, Ia., facilitated a discussion about things you should consider before setting up a website and what kind of items you might want to include. Charlie Harris of Harris Pallet Resources, Inc., Orlando, Fla., lead the discussion on how attendees have effectively laid out their plants. Bill Schneider, vp sales for Remmey, The Pallet Company., Southampton, Penn., directed the session where attendees discussed marketing and sales ideas, a topic that is important to the core of expanded recycling businesses.

David Sheppard of Underwriters Laboratories and William Kirven of Colorado Division of Insurance spoke on fire safety issues in the workplace. Warehouse fires and the differences between plastic and wood pallets have been hot issues during the last year. Suppliers of both wood and plastic pallets need to know more about truths in the fire issue. Readers might want to get ahold of the audio tape from this session.

The final three concurrent sessions included a presentation by Jay Phillips, manufacturing engineer for Hinchcliff Products Company, Strongville, Oh., on e-commerce in the pallet industry. Al Keepman, president of The Pallet Company, Nashoah, Wis., and Ted Pappas, president FBN Enterprises, Addison, Ill., addressed the issue of building dependable remanufactured or combo pallets by combining new and used lumber. Jeff Hudson, executive vice president of Enterprise National Bank, Memphis, Tenn., spoke on leasing versus buying machinery; leasing is a common practice among pallet recyclers.

The annual recycling meeting closed with a good discussion on an important topic. Sam McAdow, Sr., chairman of Buckeye Recyclers, Inc., South Charleston, Oh., Don Black, vp operations of Pallet Services, Inc., Anacortes, Wash., and Bernard Bartley, president of Robinson Pallet & Equipment Company, Woodbine, N.J., presented a panel workshop on effectively handling proprietary pallets. Proprietary pallets, particularly Chep pallets, have been one of the most discussed and often cussed issues in the recycling industry for several years. Because this issue is so sensitive, the decision was made not to tape it. Confidentiality of data in the survey that Dr. Brindley conducted was emphasized for the same reason. The Enterprise will bring more details on proprietary pallets in future articles.

A good turnout of recyclers left Denver with a better understanding of the dynamics affecting the pallet recycling industry in this time of change. As a group, pallet recyclers probably stand in a better position than manufacturers to interact with customers to solve unit load handling problems. Look for strong interests in future NWPCA recycling programs as well.

Most of the presentations at this yearís recycling meeting were taped by ACTS. For information concerning these tapes or future NWPCA meetings, contact the association by calling 703/527-7667.

Photos courtesy of the NWPCA.

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