Inbound Logistics | May 2023


For pallet suppliers, the goal is to provide the best solution for the customer. With a perspective from both sides of the industry, Dunham doesn’t see it as a wood vs. plastic debate. “We really don’t see it that way; we see it as just the best solution to accomplish what you need to accomplish,” he says. “Sometimes that’s plastic. Sometimes it’s wood.”


A conuence of trends highlights the value of plastic pallets equipped with technology that connects them to the larger supply chain ecosystem. Jeff Pepperworth, president and CEO of Florida-based iGPS Logistics, sees customers shifting toward connected plastic pallets to meet various objectives. “The growing focus on sustainability and emission reductions, coupled with the elements around the compatibility of pallets with automation, is leading to customers adopting our assets,” Pepperworth says. From the company’s beginning, iGPS pallets have encapsulated an RFID tag. Warehouse automation technology has advanced to the point where companies can take full advantage of the real-time location information from the tags. The lights-out warehouse is coming closer to reality with automated guided vehicles (AGVs), automated storage and retrieval systems, and RFID- equipped pallets. An RFID-equipped pallet allows the asset to be tracked throughout its journey, with insights into its current location, how many times it has been handled, and the number of trips the pallet has been on. The data could be used to track products for recalls or other purposes, as well as inventory management. “The useful technology curve is starting to come into play, especially with the interaction of automation, AGVs, and other assets that are now being deployed in the supply chain from a materials handling standpoint,” Pepperworth says.

iGPS Logistics o¢ers recyclable plastic pallets. Its pallet pooling and intelligent shipping solutions are designed to help shippers meet sustainability goals while also improving automation and lowering total cost of business.

recyclability. A damaged pallet can be ground up and reformed many times to reduce the amount of virgin resin needed to produce new pallets. In addition to recycling pallets, some companies divert waste plastic from their manufacturing process into new pallets. “Plastic as a whole is not the enemy to the environment; waste plastic is the enemy,” Dunham says. “Being able to capture that plastic and reuse it in the production of pallets is good for the environment.” POST COVID ADJUSTMENTS The pallet market has reached a new normal in terms of pricing and availability post-COVID. Raw material prices remain higher, and the demand for pallets grows as consumer spending rises. Some manufacturers have not recovered to pre-COVID levels, constraining supply. “The pallet industry is still stricken by a scarcity of assets,” Pepperworth says. “That’s something we will continue to deal with for the next several years.” Prices for raw materials for wood pallets and the cost of labor mean prices have remained higher than expected. That pricing pressure has increased demand for used pallets as well.

“Customers are demanding more environmentally friendly solutions, leading to a shift toward reusable and recyclable materials,” Zitzke says. “Companies in the sector must adapt their products and processes to meet these demands.” Plastic pallets not only reduce the amount of lumber waste but also reduce the emissions and water required to manufacture or recycle wood pallets after use. Plastic pallets are typically lighter, reducing fuel consumption during transport and allowing more products to be shipped, decreasing the number of trips needed. Wood pallets are reusable and recyclable, but because the price points were low, it became common practice to think of them as one-way. A wood pallet may be re-loaded, could wind up in the landll, or be repurposed for something else. Due to the emphasis on sustainability and tight supplies, companies are looking to create a circular economy for their wood pallets. “Now the challenge is how do I get the pallet back?” says Dunham. “How do I use it multiple times?” Plastic pallets are known for their

76 Inbound Logistics • May 2023

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