Sea Shorts: Save the world with a shipping pallet revolution

Ok, I know what you are thinking... "she's really gone mad" and "ugh shipping pallets - who cares!". Well, be prepared to be very excited!

Almost everything we have has spent some time on a shipping pallet. Shipping pallets need to take a lot of weight. They need to be strong, to be durable - which is why many pallets are made out of wood (and sometimes plastic). These robust pallets are heavy and that weight is a problem for our climate. Why you ask? Well it all comes down to fuel. The heavier the load that needs moving, the more fuel is needed to move it.

More fuel = more emissions = more greenhouse gases. If we want to tackle ocean warming, deoxygenation, and acidification (and more), This is NOT the direction we want to go in.

Fortunately NGO Change The Pallet have another way. Corrugated cardboard. Yep - instead of wood (or plastic) making pallets out of corrugated cardboard means pallets are lighter! Now these pallets are strong - but not as strong as wood can be, so they are suitable for lighter (<1200 lb / ~540 kg) loads that regularly make trips across countries. According to their calculations, these lighter pallets will make a difference to our carbon emissions:

 There are an estimated 10 billion palletized shipments every year in the United States. Corrugated pallets weigh ~10 pounds per pallet, while wood pallets weigh ~50 pounds. On a national scale, replacing wood pallets with corrugated ones would result in 400 billion fewer pounds of pallet weight being shipped, every year.

Assuming the average distance a loaded pallet travels is 500 miles, a reduction of 400 billion pallet pounds would result in 35 million fewer metric tons of carbon emissions in the U.S., each year. Reducing carbon emissions by 35 million metric tons is equivalent to driving more than 85.7 billion fewer miles in average gasoline cars or burning 38.3 billion fewer pounds of coal per year.*

Well that's nothing to turn your nose up at! According to Change The Pallet, there's more…

Because corrugated cardboard pallets are easier to customise, they can be created to fit specific products loads which in turn means it's easier to optimise truck bed volume which in turn means fewer trucks are needed. What do fewer trucks mean? Less fuel used!*

But wait… there's even more!

They also point out that the cardboard pallets can be recycled through existing infrastructure - unlike wooden pallets which either need to be picked up and reused - or taken to the dump. So again, less trucks on the road!*

Now you're all very excited about the prospects of a shipping pallet revolution, you might be asking… "what can I do?" Well, first you can check out their rather marvellous short video

Isn't it marvellous!

Now you can head to their website  where you will see a “Joint Letter to Suppliers” which calls on companies such as Apple, Dell, Nike, and Aramark to replace wood and plastic pallets with lightweight, recyclable corrugated cardboard pallets for shipments to campuses and government facilities. Whether you are an individual, a company, a university, or a non-profit you can sign to support this letter!

Want to do more? Be inspired by this student and faculty committee at Haverford College who are “reaching out to college campuses across the country advocating for the use of lightweight, recyclable cardboard shipping pallets”.

You can also follow them on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

Header Image Credit: Euro pallets by Andreas Lischka (Pixabay Licence)


The Sea Shorts series offers tiny glimpses into all things ocean and coastal. Read more Sea Shorts and other stories here.