Pallets allow the transportation of goods in an efficient and reliable way. An estimated 2 billion pallets are in use in the U.S. everyday. Approximately 500 million pallets are manufactured annually, the majority of which are made of wood. The environmental impact of pallets highly depends on materials, manufacturing and handling processes. Plastic pallets are lighter and may last longer but their manufacturing processes are energy intensive and contribute to greenhouse gas emissions. On the other hand, wood pallets are cheaper and easily repaired but present a shorter life. Additionally, pallet management systems may dramatically affect the environmental impacts arising from the operation of product transportation and delivery systems.
This research proposes a methodology to analyze pallets lifecycle when considering logistics providers and various pallets end-of-life scenarios with respect to environmental performance. Mathematical programming is used to design the system that yields the lowest levels of environmental impacts such as carbon dioxide emissions resulting from pallet manufacturing, distribution and take back operations. This study will assist the decision making of product distributors with respect to pallet providers for an effective sustainable performance, minimizing environmental footprint and cost. A case study from a large grocery distributor/retailer in the Northeast will be presented.