It is always interesting to follow the conversation about reusable packaging from outside the material handling trade press. Recently, the popular environmental site Triple Pundit wrote a piece praising aluminum pallets as an opportunity to reduce environmental and health risks versus wood pallets.
The piece does well to raise awareness of the carbon footprint of the supply chain, and the benefit of using lighter pallets that reduce that impact. Aside from making assumptions about wood pallet weight that by my guess are a little heavy, it also wades into the dangerous area of carbon footprint impact, suggesting that wood is inferior to other alternatives. Bill Roth, the author, fails to cite any studies, which he probably could have, as it is easy enough to pick one that supports whatever side of the argument you support. I continue to argue that carbon footprint is more about effective real world handling efficiency than it is about misguided assumptions about how many trips one type of pallet will last versus another. And of course sequestering is an important consideration that studies may or may not include. As Penn State researchers have said with respect to these studies, it is important to know “when life begins,” when studying the environmental impact of pallets.
A little later the article finds itself blown off course in the vein of recent wood bashing, saying that “There is growing awareness of the potential for wood pallets to convey bacteria harmful to humans including Listeria, E. coli and salmonella.”
To be clear, improperly handled pallets of many materials may convey bacteria if they are exposed to unsanitary conditions, and this is exactly why the MH1 committee on pallet standards is working toward developing a safe handling guideline for pallets regardless of material used, as I will be discussing at greater length in Pallet Enterprise Magazine. At the end of the day, shipping pallets are still tertiary packaging without direct contact, and there is simply no evidence that I am aware of that ties wood pallets to food contamination events.
Unfortunately, such districtions take the focus away from the value that aluminum pallets can bring to the marketplace in terms of a light, strong and easy to clean pallet that is ergonomically friendly to materials handlers. In this case the company mentioned is Eco Aluminum Pallets. For any type of material selected, the key is to employ reusable transport packaging where it makes sense, and when it does, to manage it intelligently.