You could buy some IKEA furniture, or simply steal the pallet it’s on with which to fashion your own. You decide.
Never in the history of humanity’s relationship with wood have there been so many well-crafted chairs, loungers, planter boxes, vertical gardens, shelves, picture frames, coffee tables, bed heads, kitchen islands, wine racks, potting benches, and dog houses made from wooden pallets.
However, for every beautifully crafted, repurposed pallet there remains a lot of people barely making an effort.
Despite a myriad of books and innumerable websites dedicated to turning the pallet into something other than a pallet some people think that simply painting two pallets green and placing a mattress on them makes them a bed base. No. It’s just pallets, under your mattress.
Similarly, stacking a few pallets on top of each other does not make a coffee table. It’s a stack of pallets in the lounge. Even if they have castors under them, it’s now just a stack of pallets you can roll.
There is no denying pallet repurposing is an excellent idea. They’re a cheap, readily available source of lumber. Pallet factories churn out around 500 million of them every year, and then they load them onto other pallets, and ship them off to wherever they’re needed to fulfill their role as the world’s most common method of transporting goods.
Given how many of them there are, they may well constitute the world’s largest source of reclaimable wood. Many of the actual owners of pallets would like to reclaim them too. There’s even a very large global black market for the humble pallet. Surely they can’t all be going to enviroartisans to reuse. It’s no wonder they have to be constantly manufactured. But is it sustainable?
I am not sure if anyone has calculated how many trees are needed to make 500 million pallets, but pallet makers claim that they tend to be made with whatever offcuts of wood are available. Repurposers often find a mixture of various woods, which can make for some very interesting furniture designs.
Some manufacturers have tried alternatives: Ikea uses a corrugated cardboard pallet, which is 90% lighter than wood, saves on shipping costs, and possibly has more structural integrity than some of their furniture. Others use plastic, or metal. But it is the wooden pallet that reigns supreme, accounting for 95% of them all.
The obsession with repurposing pallets is nothing new. In 1951, only a few years after the pallet came into its own during WWII, American artist Daniel Van Meter used 2000 of them to build a six-meter-high tower in Los Angeles. Unsure what to do about it, the authorities left him alone until 1977, when the fire department decided that his tower was not art, but rather ‘an illegally stacked lumber pile’. Fire departments traditionally frown on those.
Van Meter, with the ingenuity common to pallet repurposers, had it declared a Historic Cultural Monument. For nearly 50 years the tower stood until it was torn down after Van Meter’s death to make way for apartments.
It does seem a shame, but the metaphor of a tower of pallets, symbolising consumer excess, and endangering public safety still seems pertinent today.
The National Consumers League in the USA found that when they tested pallets that 10% were contaminated with E Coli. 2.9% had traces of lysteria.
And then there are the pallets that have been treated with chemicals to stop rot or insects destroying them. When you are thinking about using one to make that herb garden, or cot, ask yourself where has your pallet been? What’s it been sitting on? What’s been sitting on it?
You could buy a new pallet to be on the safe side, but that somewhat defeats the purpose of recycling them.