Pallets are an essential item for anyone moving freight. Typically built with untreated wood, they offer a platform where workers can stack boxes or put very large bags. They also have long, narrow holes in the sides so a forklift can get its tines inside and pick it up. Those forklifts quickly and efficiently cart goods around warehouses, in and out of trucks, even down the aisles of your favorite shopping centers.
Pallets can hold quite a bit of weight and are easy to stack. And, they are not just for industrial use either. Farmers use them to hold large boxes of watermelons or bags of grain. Homeowners may get pallets when they purchase large loads of fireplace pellets or plants. The most common size for a pallet is 40 inches x 48 inches, although they can be larger or smaller depending on their intended use.
Even though pallets are quite sturdy, they do break eventually. When they do, there are lots of good recycling options out there (and even some fun ways to reuse them).
How to recycle wood pallets
Broken and damaged pallets can be recycled a couple different ways. If the damage is minor, pallet processing companies can repair them and sell them back into the marketplace (usually at a substantial discount compared to buying new pallets).
Pieces that have sustained more serious damage are shredded. Nails and staples are separated out using a magnet and are sent to a metal recycler. Since pallets are pretty much all made of the same type of wood, people who want to reuse it know they are getting a consistent product.
If you happen to have pallets hanging around, you will need to take them to a pallet recycler for reprocessing. Examples of pallet recyclers include Millwood Inc., which has locations in 11 states including Ohio, Connecticut and Tennessee; and Valley Pallet Inc., with offices in California and Arizona. Some of these places pay for pallets, while at others you should be able to drop them off at no charge.
You might also call around and see if any nonprofits can use your old pallets. Food banks, electronics reuse organizations and even some animal shelters use them for storage.
Uses for recycled pallet wood
The consistent makeup of pallet wood means it is a good fit for many reuse or recycling applications. These include garden mulch, compost, animal bedding and wood chips for playgrounds.
Some people have even gotten creative about using old pallet wood. ShelterWorks Ltd. in Oregon uses it in its Faswall
product, which mixes concrete and wood to make building blocks. The blocks have interlocking ends, making them very easy to put together, and holes down the middle for concrete, which gives the product exceptional insulation. This great green building product is made with 60% recycled materials (all the wood and some of the concrete is recycled) and is vapor permeable, meaning buildings using the material have really exceptional indoor air quality. Faswall can be used for everything from foundations and root cellars, to homes and warehouses.
Reuse pallets for gardens, other home projects
Pallets make great garden beds, especially for people who do not have much space. Simply lean the pallet against the side of a building, add some landscaping fabric to hold your potting soil, fill it with dirt and plant veggies or flowers. You can also put the pallet flat on the ground to make instant raised beds.
Old pallets make excellent compost bins. They are a good size and are well made, and the untreated wood used to make them will not leech chemicals into the compost. YouTube has plenty of good instructional videos for building your own bins, including this one from Urban Farm Online
Pallets can also be used for chairs, potting benches and other items around the home. One word of caution: If you are going to use pallets for projects, make sure you know where they came from and what they were used for. Pallets sometimes carry chemicals, fertilizers and other dangerous substances you would not want polluting your home or yard.
A note about plastic pallets
In recent years, some retailers and manufacturers have switched to plastic pallets instead of wood. There are several benefits to using plastic over wood. These new pallets are easier to clean and sanitize, and since they do not absorb moisture, they will not rot or grow mildew. When plastic pallets first appeared on the market, no one repaired them, but repair companies have cropped up in recent years to meet the growing demand.
Plastic pallets are recycled in much the same way as their wood counterparts: They are shredded, and the byproducts are sold to plastic recyclers. Some wood pallet recyclers will accept plastic pallets, too. Ask at your local recycling facility or look for a recycler that specializes in plastic pallets.