The sturdy standard wooden pallet works hard. At its best, one EUR or FIN pallet can be used for years, while it travels on many forklifts and trucks and visits numerous warehouses.
But of course there is a limit to what it can take; some dirt and small dents are bound to happen along the way, and the forklift driver has bad days.
“If a wooden pallet gets damaged, it can often be repaired. When it finally reaches the end of its life cycle, it is usually turned into wooden chips, which can then be used as compost in landfills,” says Jukka Ala-Viikari, Managing Director at Puupakkausten Kierrätys PPK Oy.
Wooden chips are also suitable for energy production, although burning is not considered recycling.
One-way pallets are the most commonly used wooden packages
The wooden packaging category includes the standard-sized pallets, i.e. EUR and FIN pallets. Other examples are one-way pallets, which, despite their name, can sometimes be used more than once.
The category also includes cable reels and various containers made of wood, such as boxes and barrels.
“One-way and other types of wooden pallets are the most commonly used ones in Finland, followed closely by EUR pallets, and the third most common are FIN pallets,” Ala-Viikari explains.
Due to globalisation, EUR pallets that comply with European standards are now used more in Finland, while the number of FIN pallets has decreased. Rental pallets are also used more widely. Their advantage is that producers do not need to invest in pallets.
Wooden packaging centres control the pallet traffic
Wooden packaging centres such as Encore Kuormalavapalvelu and Paperinkeräys buy, sell and often also rent out pallets.
“Our trucks pick up empty EUR and FIN pallets, they are then checked and sorted and returned to packaging companies. Our aim is, of course, to run trucks that are as full as possible at all times,” says Petteri Paananen, Business Manager at Encore’s pallets division.
Encore’s pallets division also repairs pallets. Repairing FIN and EUR pallets is a licenced trade. The damage can be enormous if, for example, a pallet full of electronic products falls on the ground because of faulty repair work.
Encore’s pallets division also rents out pallets. Its catalogue includes EUR pallets as well as ½ and ¼ pallets. The company is especially well-known for its green rental pallets used by the retail sector.
There are also Finnish companies that specialise solely in rental operations.
Pallets can also move directly between a shop and another company using them. This is a system where the same number of pallets is picked up as was delivered, and the pallets are not checked or repaired.
Durable instead of disposable?
Quite a lot of wooden packaging waste is produced in Finland, and the situation is made worse by the great number of one-way pallets.
“Around 210,000 tonnes of new wooden packaging enters the market every year, and an equal amount of wooden packaging waste is taken out; 30,000 tonnes of this is either repaired or composted, and the rest is used in energy production,” says Ala-Viikari.
Paananen points out that it would often be eco-friendlier and also cheaper for consumers if EUR or FIN pallets were used instead of one-way pallets.
“Since EUR and FIN pallets have resale value, using them instead of one-way pallets could be more economical. You can avoid paying the waste disposal fee by using rental pallets,” he says.
Recycling wood is challenging
Ala-Viikari says that there are challenges involved in recycling wooden packaging waste in Finland.
“Our forests produce new timber more quickly than is used. When new timber is available, the market for used timber is in difficulty.”
The use of wooden chips in composting has also decreased because waste is now processed using new methods at waste management facilities.
The target has been to recycle 15 percent of new wooden packaging entering the market, and this target will now be set at 17 percent.
Savings for accurate reports
A producer files a yearly report to Rinki on the wooden packaging it has used. The recycling fee is paid on new or imported wooden packaging.
Ala-Viikari advises producers to report their use of wooden packaging accurately on the form to ensure that they do not pay fees unnecessarily.
“For example, rental pallets are entered in the reuse column as they are not usually new wooden packaging on the market. It is also advisable to check the number of new and used pallets in the one-way pallets column before filling in the form.”
What kind of wooden packaging is available?
• FIN pallet and EUR pallet, which come in standard sizes:
FIN pallet 1200 x 1000 mm and EUR pallet 1200 x 800 mm.
• Other wooden pallets, e.g. one-way pallets of various sizes, also one-way pallets in EUR and FIN sizes (not stamped) and rental pallets (e.g. Chep pallets).
Cable reels used to pack various cables.
Other wooden packaging, including boxes, lids, sleeves, platforms, frames, barrels, containers and supports made of wood or plywood.
Text Matti Välimäki, image iStockphoto