What happens to used wood pallets?


You might have noticed empty pallets of wood accumulating in warehouses, or along the streets behind small businesses. Have you ever wondered what happens? Many people think that pallets go to landfills. However, this is not the case for many years.

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More old wood pallets can be recycled thanks to the efficient pallet recycling industry. These pallets can then be used for repairs and reuse, or for conversion into wood fiber products. These recycled wood products include fuel and landscaping mulch. A small, but growing number of pallets are being used in craft projects.

What is most likely to be recycled?

One thing is certain: pallets that are most likely to be recycled include those of the most common sizes. These include 48×40-inch pallet footprints in North America or 800x1200mm and 1200x1000mm in Europe. Pallet recovery is more likely to occur in areas with higher accumulations. Pallet recyclers have a better value proposition if there are more of the most valuable sizes.

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This idea suggests that pallets are less likely be recycled if there are fewer of them and they are of smaller sizes. Pallet recycling has become more popular as a result of the increasing emphasis on sustainable construction practices. Pallet collectors often take empty pallets to resell, even if they are small.

Picture of the U.S. Wood Pallet

  • Here are some key statistics about the U.S. Pallet System, courtesy U.S. Forest Service
  • The total number of pallets currently in service is likely to exceed 2 billion
  • In 2011, 416 million pallets were manufactured.
  • In 2011, 474 million pallets were recovered
  • 326 million pallets were recovered and sold again as pallets.
  • The remaining 148 million pallets were used to make other products.

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Millions upon millions of pallets end up in landfills each year. However, only about one-quarter are recycled at landfills.

  • About 43 percent of 100 pallets bought are recycled pallets
  • Pallet Recovery: Growth

Pallet recycling has made it possible to divert pallets from landfills. In 1992, 51 million pallets had been recovered. However, this number had risen to 143 millions by 1995. This number had risen to 223 million in 1999. By 2006, it was at 357 million. In 2011, 474 millions of pallets were recovered.

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The South was the leader in pallet recovery, with 204 million pallet cores. This is another term for pallets that were recovered. In 2011, the Midwest had 148 million. The West had 74 million pallet cores, while the Northeast had 61 million.