Carry on

You could buy some IKEA fur­ni­ture, or sim­ply steal the pal­let it’s on with which to fash­ion your own. You de­cide.

Element - - Element Promotion - TE RADAR RADAR’S RANT

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.

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