Wood Pallets vs. Plastic Pallets: The Battle Rages On

Wood Pallets vs. Plastic Pallets: The Battle Rages On

Over the last couple years, a marketing and policy war has been fought between the makers of wood pallets and plastic pallets. It has largely been waged between the National Wooden Pallet and Container Association and iGPS, the makers of plastic pallets.

Both sides are furiously touting the benefits of their products, and the hazards of the other. Wood pallets, you learn, are the most affordable solution, are biodegradable, eco-friendly (because they're made of scrap wood that would otherwise be wasted), and highly reusable. Plastic pallets, on the other hand, are affordable, eco-friendly (because the resin can be re-molded when one is broken), highly durable, and so on.

The websites of both groups are full of dire warnings about the state of the battle: NWPCA says it "did not look for a fight with the plastic pallet industry, but the ongoing campaign of misinformation and intimidation by iGPS must be confronted and beaten back by a united wood pallet industry." And iGPS's home page includes a link to an inflammatory 60 Minutes video (more on which below), as well as a letter from iGPS CEO Bob Moore responding to "false and reckless statements by the NWPCA."

But the PR war has continually stepped up in intensity, with iGPS alleging last year that, because wood pallets are porous, they can harbor "dangerously high" bacteria counts, and that a quarter of wooden pallets tested harbored Salmonella, E. coli and Listeria bacteria. (That salvo was picked up by 60 minutes, which ran a video on the discovery.)

Last month, that battle hit a new crescendo, when an outgoing U.S. Senator stepped in on behalf of the wood pallet industry. According to an article in PlasticsToday by Clare Goldsberry, Chris Dodd, the now-former Democratic senator from Connecticut, sent a letter at the end of his term to the FDA, warning of hidden dangers of plastic pallets.

Goldsberry writes:

Dodd's letter to the FDA urged the agency to notify "food manufacturers, transporters and retailers inspected by the FDA that plastic pallets containing decaBDE are inappropriate for use in scenarios that may bring decabromine into contact with food," according to a release by the National Wooden Pallet and Container Association. Dodd recommended the FDA "Develop and disseminate education and training materials for FDA inspectors to enable them to identify plastic pallets that contain decaBDE, recognize scenarios of use that may bring decaBDE into food contact, and be provided clear guidance regarding enforcement and reporting requirements."

In response, iGPS is calling for a formal investigation into the misleading and abusive trade practices of the wood pallet industry, saying the Jan. 5 actions by the wooden pallet industry spread "false and misleading information about the safety of plastic pallets" and epitomize the "reckless and disreputable character of the industry."

In a statement released by iGPS, Chairman and CEO Bob Moore, said, "There is not a morsel of truth in former Senator Dodd's letter. Either the Senator was purposely misled or he decided to do a friend a last-minute favor by repeating spoon-fed mistruths and scare tactics."

Good times in the trenches. We don't cover the pallet debate very often -- I guess you could say we're agnostic on the different technologies -- but in 2009, we reported that three companies were switching to plastic pallets, and way back in the archives from GreenBiz.com's 10-year history, there's this report from 2000 looking at a House bill that would provide incentives for businesses to reuse pallets and plastic containers.

Let's throw open the debate: Do you have a preference for wood or plastic pallets? If so, why? Let us know in the comments, or shoot me an email if you'd rather share your thoughts privately.

Pallets photo CC-licensed by Frank Vincentz.