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Comparisons of environmental impacts between wood and plastic transport pallets

Kočí, Vladimír
The Science of the total environment 2019 v.686 pp. 514-528
Picea, Pinus, adverse effects, bark, ecosystem services, energy recovery, environmental impact, landfills, life cycle assessment, melting, pallets, plastics, recycled plastic, sawdust, trees, wood logs
The use of transport pallets is now ubiquitous in the distribution of an extensive range of products worldwide. This study focuses on comparisons of the potential environmental impacts of two main types of transport pallets, based on a life cycle assessment (LCA); those made from wood and those made from primary or recycled plastic. Both the weight and volume of the transported cargo were selected as basis for functional unit selection, as well as was the transport distance over which the pallet is used. The ReCiPe 2016 characterization method for the expression of environmental impacts was applied. Wood pallet were found to be more environmentally friendly than primary plastic pallet if energy recovery takes a place at the end of its life cycle. If secondary plastic is used for pallet production, their environmental impacts are lower in several impact categories than wood pallets without energy recovery at their end-of-life. If a wood pallet is disposed of in a landfill, its environmental benefits are substantially lower; however, it is still more environmentally friendly than a primary plastic pallet. An important factor in assessing the environmental impact of the pallet life cycle is its weight. Pine wood when used as an alternative to spruce for pallet production was found to have fewer environmental impacts. The weight of the pallet increases the overall weight of the transported cargo, which in turn is reflected in the overall environmental impact of the shipment. The following groups of processes, identified as having significant adverse effects on the environment, are significantly involved in the environmental impacts of wood pallets: disposal, transport to processing, length and shape forming of logs, sawdust collection and chipping, production of trees with bark, and internal transfer of wood logs. For plastic pallets, the processes most involved in environmental impacts were: melting and molding of the plastic, primary plastic production, transport to processing, and cooling of the plastic.