Professor decided to conduct this research after hearing claims about the environmental superiority of plastic pallets that he suspected were questionable.
Weighing in on a debate that has raged for decades, Penn State researchers, after conducting a series of ultra-detailed comparisons, have declared that shipping pallets made of wood are slightly more environmentally friendly and sustainable than those made of plastic.
“Few people realize the significance of this issue — there are about 700 million pallets produced and recycled each year in the United States alone,” said Chuck Ray, associate professor of ecosystem science and management in the College of Agricultural Sciences. “There are 2 billion pallets in use in this country.”
Researchers compared the long-term performance of treated wooden and plastic pallets through a detailed, cradle-to-grave life-cycle assessment, and conducted an analysis of treatments required to kill pests such as insects. They investigated and evaluated the environmental impacts of resources consumed and emissions released by wooden and plastic pallets throughout their life cycles.
In the study, the environmental impacts of the pallets were compared on a one-trip basis and 100,000-trips basis, under nine impact categories chosen by researchers because of their environmental relevance.
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