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44 Years of Earth Day!

Earth Day turns 44 this year, but in most ways, environmentalism continues to stumble. According to information published in the report titled Americans' Global Warming Beliefs and Attitudes in April 2013, almost two in three Americans believes global warming is happening. The number is not alarming until you realize that the percentage of those who believe that climate change is happening dropped by seven points from 2012 to 2013, a change that was influenced by a cold winter. The exceptional weather we have experienced during winter 2013-2014 is likely to push the numbers downward again. Meanwhile, climate change ranks number fourteen on a list of American worries, edging out only race relations.

Getting people to care about environmental threats, especially the distant ones like climate change, can be rough. Whether or not individuals care may not be the answer, our time is better spent with a focus on developing green initiatives within companies. Businesses can either choose to find a case for profitable sustainability and going green, or they can go gray and die away. Most firms will make the decision to innovate.

In the melee of articles and reports surrounding Earth Day, you will hear a lot about sustainability programs being successfully executed by businesses and government offices. But you probably will not hear a lot about the role of plastics in the pursuit of sustainability. That is unfortunate because advances in sustainability made possible by plastics are evident in transportation, health care, packaging, home building and even what we choose to wear.

So we should take a brief look at how one use of plastics has contributed to sustainability in shipping and a better world.

There is not much clear documentation as to when the first plastic pallets appeared, but popular consensus in the shipping industry indicates that they most likely appeared nearly forty-five ago. Captain Leo Nathans has been given the credit for developing the first plastic pallets for GM to ship auto parts. Nathan took an idea that was in its infancy, and took it from unfeasible to it being the first steps in returnable packaging. His model went on to be used for tens of thousands of pallets.

In the early 70s, a rotational molding process was used to produce plastic pallets in mid-America for both the food and pharmaceutical industries as returnable units. Rotational molding involves a heated hollow mold that is filled with material and then rotated, causing the softened material to disperse and stick to the walls. The rotation will force the pallet to maintain even thickness at all times and avoid sagging after cooling. As the process proved to be successful for shipping, pallets were also formed for internal applications requiring a high degree of cleanliness.

Innovation had not been a big component of the plastic pallet industry in its early years, but the last fifteen years have brought us:

  • Interlocking plastic pallets.
  • Nestable plastic pallets.
  • Vacuum formed plastic pallets.
  • Plastic export pallets.
  • Plastic rackable pallets.

With a better understanding of where plastic pallets come from, it is now time to explain how plastic pallets will be important in the future and why you should spread the word today. According to the Freedonia Group, U.S. demand for shipping pallets is expected to rise 6.1 percent per year to 1.3 billion units in 2015, valued at $15 billion. This pace is going to represent a dramatic turnaround for the last one-half decade, when pallet demand fell in response to a decline in manufacturing. The increase in production can be considered either thrilling or slightly terrifying, if a business considers it in terms of expense associated with shipping wooden pallets from Point A to Point B.

Innovations in plastic pallets over the last decade have seen a greater variety of materials, sizes and specifications introduced to the market. This includes hygienic pallets, lightweight, low cost pallets that are exempt from wood packaging regulations and pallet boxes. These are all definite checkmarks in the “changing the world” column, but they skip over the reality that plastic pallets have a longer asset life, they eliminate machinery issues at most major warehouses; most are 100% recyclable, and they eliminate some shipping expenses. Perhaps the biggest “win” is that a plastic pallet system will remove thousands of pounds of non-value freight from your shipping and supply-chain infrastructure, resulting in fuel savings.

The number of wood pallets out there is staggering. Nearly 2 billion wood pallets are currently circulating within our borders alone, with the majority of them replaced each year. This eats-an estimated fifty percent of the US hardwood harvest annually. In turn, this represents a significant market for the lumber industry, especially when you consider that less than one-half of these pallets are meant to be used more than once and then thrown away. The sad truth is that few can actually be chipped down into mulch, due to containing hardware that is difficult to remove. Wooden pallets are not exactly the type of "Happy Earth Day" message a business wants to send to the world, or its shareholders.

Can you see where plastic pallets would be a boon to supply-chains, providing cost-savings and efficiencies to all? Plastic pallets may not be the most dazzling of water cooler conversation topics, but given their prevalence, along with the associated issues in this article, they do merit more public attention and discussion than they do receive.

It is time to spread the word!

People who work with Reusable Transport Packaging may know some or all of this. Regardless, it bears repeating, not just on Earth Day, but by anyone and everyone whose livelihood is changed and made better by plastics!

Reusable Transport Packaging wants to assist you in the replacement of your obsolete packaging containers and pallets. Contact one of our representatives today to learn more about the plastic pallets and plastic bulk containers we have available and how they can benefit your company! Happy Earth Day!

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