Packaging Corner: Regrind and recycle for fresh, clean pallets

Food, pharmaceutical manufacturers devise a closed-loop plastic pallet system with a twist to ensure product safety.

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Although the specific regulations of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) have yet to be finalized, many food and pharmaceutical manufacturers are enacting their own handling requirements to safeguard the integrity of their products. Many of these processors don’t want wood pallets—which could potentially harbor pathogens and create cross-contamination issues—to enter their facilities, according to Jim Lowry, director of new business development and technology for Sonoco.

“They’re so serious about eliminating potential exposure to cross contamination, they not only invested in plastic pallets, but they also committed to bypassing the traditional closed-loop handling model with a new practice,” Lowry says.

To ensure the raw ingredients never touch wood pallets, two Sonoco customers in these industries purchase new, medium-duty, injection-molded pallets made from 100% recycled plastic. To facilitate stacking and forklift handling, the pallets are assembled with detachable runners and delivered by the truckload to suppliers’ facilities. The suppliers put the ingredients onto the pallets, which then ship to the manufacturer.

It gets particularly interesting after the plastic pallets deliver their loads to the plants, says Lowry. Instead of passing the pallets through a wash or sanitization process, the companies’ logistics handlers remove the runners so they nest compactly (2,100 to a truckload, a 4:1 return ratio). Then, the entire truckload of pallets, each used just once, is sold back to Sonoco, which regrinds them and recycles the resin to make new pallets.

“This way, the manufacturers are 100% certain that their ingredients have not come into contact with a wood pallet,” Lowry explains. “They buy a pallet from us in the $19 range; we buy it back in the $6 range. That puts the plastic pallet’s cost at roughly $13, which is competitive due to recent price increase in wood pallets.”

Likewise, he says, implementing a sanitization step would require a much larger initial investment in a full pallet pool. “The associated tracking, handling and management of a pool adds another 15% or more to the cost, which neither customer felt they could justify,” says Lowry. “This way, they know they’re getting clean pallets every time, because what could be cleaner than a pallet fresh from the injection mold?”

Read more Packaging Corner articles.

About the Author

Sara Pearson Specter
Sara Pearson Specter has written articles and supplements for Modern Materials Handling and Material Handling Product News as an Editor at Large since 2001. Specter has worked in the fields of graphic design, advertising, marketing, and public relations for nearly 20 years, with a special emphasis on helping business-to-business industrial and manufacturing companies. She owns her own marketing communications firm, Sara Specter, Marketing Mercenary LLC. Clients include companies in a diverse range of fields, including materials handing equipment, systems and packaging, professional and financial services, regional economic development and higher education. Specter graduated from Centre College in Danville, Ky. with a bachelor’s degree in French and history. She lives in Oregon’s Willamette Valley where she and her husband are in the process of establishing a vineyard and winery.

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Article Topics

April 2014 · Packaging · Packaging Corner · Pallets · Sonoco · · All Topics
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