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From Recycling to Upcycling – A Change in How People Look at Pallets
Upcycling is growing as a trend across the country, and wooden pallets are at the center of this emerging business opportunity. Learn how one new festival may change the way that people look at the industry forever.
By Edward C. Brindley, Jr
Date Posted: 10/1/2014
Pallet recycling has become so common that it is an accepted part of the pallet landscape, but that has not always been the case. When I first started working with the pallet industry in 1977, recycling was seldom practiced by most pallet companies. When I started the Pallet Profile Weekly market report at that time, there were very few pallet recyclers known to me. In my early days, I was aware of a few pallet recyclers, primarily in the New Jersey and Southern California markets. Most companies bought new pallets; they stuck their noses up in the air at the suggestion of purchasing used pallets.
Now recycled used pallets are an established option for many pallet using industries. The biggest issue is typically cost. People are willing to buy used pallets because they are cheaper and do the job. Recycled pallets appeared in many markets during the 1980s, and the 1990s experienced a huge increase in used and recycled pallets. We conducted a number of pallet recycling surveys during the 90s; the numbers consistently showed about a 20% annual growth in recycling during the last decade in the millennium. Since then recycling has continued to grow but tight pallet core supplies have often served to restrict the growth of used pallets.
Before pallet recycling entered the arena, used pallets were often disposed of in a number of ways, including grinding into wood fiber for a wide variety of markets, and in some cases being thrown into landfills. Occasionally, used pallets were dismantled and repurposed into another product altogether. One of the early markets brought to my attention was low-cost wooden baby beds made out of using dismantled pallets.
Whole pallets have been used to build a number of artistic items for parks, such as pallet mazes and pallet towers. So, pallets have found themselves being used for a wide variety of artistic and practical products. Sometimes they are dismantled into individual boards and sometimes used as whole pallets in larger artistic or construction ways. Recently this practice has gone from something that is a rarity to a more common practice as do-it-yourself woodworkers, furniture makers and recycled art enthusiasts have begun making a wide variety of products out of old pallets. This ranges from furniture to structures to art to playgrounds – whatever people can imagine.
A new term is starting to take shape called “upcycling.” This is the practice of turning old products into a new item when its usable life comes to an end. Upcycling has exploded recently in popularity as more and more people are learning how to do it thanks to social media and websites, such as YouTube and Pinterest.
In the case of pallets, recycling often means modifying a pallet in some fashion but preserving it as a pallet. It often means converting a pallet or scrap boards into wood fiber for useful products.
On the other hand, upcycling typically is applied in such a way as to create a product of higher quality of value than its original purpose. This could be a good new business opportunity for pallet recyclers to produce value-added products or at the very least a new customer for waste pallet material.
It has come to my attention that one of the first major festivals in the country focusing on upcycling is themed around wooden pallets. Called Pallet Fest 2014, this event is scheduled for October 11th and 12th in Denver, Colorado. It will be the city’s first green certified event and is expected to draw 7,000 to 10,000 attendees.
Kenny Fischer, the organizer and pioneer behind Pallet Fest, explained, why pallets are so popular with the upcycling community. He said, “Pallets are one of the world’s most diversely capable products. We are only held back by our imaginations, and upcycling pallets removes waste from landfills.”
Fischer added, “Every upcycle piece you make or buy is a good story because it is unique, creative and is made right in your own back yard.”
One of the people who has made the whole event possible is James Ruder of L&R Pallet Service in Denver. His company has provided the pallets used for the event and will be showcasing its own upcycle product, recycled pallet decking made into wall paneling. This festival is an opportunity for L&R Pallet to tell its story and change the way that the public thinks about pallets.
Fischer spoke about the green credentials of his pallet recycling partner. He said, “L&R is one of the most sustainable companies that I have ever come across.” He added that wooden pallets are among the most recycled and reused products compared to traditional product packaging.
I believe that the PalletFest will be the first in a long line of upcycling festivals. Of course if you can make something out of wood, you can probably use a wooden pallet as a source of materials. As people get exposed to the many innovative things that can be done with wood and wooden pallets, our industry will benefit from the positive exposure. Our readers are aware of how important pallets are to our society, but much of the society still looks at me funny when I mention that I publish a wooden pallet magazine. I am looking forward to publishing more in the future about upcycling wooden pallets.
This is a good opportunity to put forward all the positives about the wooden pallet industry. Let’s not squander this opportunity to tell our story. Kudos to companies like L&R Pallet Service for seeking to make the best of this emerging trend.