A Word from the General Manager - November 2015

November 1, 2015

Wood Packaging Industry Issues & Initiatives

What is happening in global pallet markets? 

Brian Isard

Pallet and container manufacturers from around the world attended the 66th FEFPEB 2015 Conference last  month which was hosted by Timber Packaging and Pallet Confederation (TIMCON). We had the opportunity to sit down with associations representing Asia, South Africa, Europe, United Kingdom, Australia and the United States. It is heartening to see so many companies coming together to work together and provide leadership on issues that are facing our industry.

We discussed the following trends facing our industry and areas where we need to work together to protect our markets.

  • The forest products industry has done an excellent job on the sustainability side, so much so that people now equate wood with a sustainable resource. The majority of wood harvested and used in our industry is from PERC or FSC certified forests. However, the wood packaging industry needs to align itself more closely with what the forest products sector has done. As an industry we need to do more to improve our image around public recognition of our valuable contribution to recyclability, carbon storage, and low energy consumption. This is the challenge that Europe is working on with their Packaging from Natureand North America is working on with its Nature’s Packaging campaign
  • Our industry sector, like many others, finds itself increasingly regulated. One area that has many in our industry concerned is the new regulations on packaging which is in direct contact with food. Competitors from alternative materials like to portray wood as more difficult to clean and sanitize than other materials. Our industry needs a platform for questions regarding the use and hygienic properties of wood. SEIL, the association representing lightweight packaging in Europe has released a four year evidence based study called “Wood in Contact with Food: A Scientific Approach”, which demonstrates that wood has good hygienic properties. Good manufacturing quality, good handling practice, and proper sanitation treatments surely make wood a suitable material for most applications in the food industries.
  • A second area of increasing regulation, both in Europe and North America, is in the so called “circular economy”. Whereas our economies have used a “Take –make-consume and dispose” approach that assumes that resources are abundant, available, and cheap to dispose of.  In a more “circular economy” this means “re-using, repairing, refurbishing, and recycling” where all resources need to be more efficiently managed .The startling fact that was laid out for us was that the plastics industry is able to only recycle about 25% of its waste whereas the wood packaging industry is close to 100%. Yet somehow plastic pallets and containers are viewed as more environmentally friendly. Our industry has an image problem which we are working hard on to address.
  • Global markets report strong growth in the pallet recycling sector along with the organizations that provide the logistics around pallet sortation, recovery, return, and relocation. There was a lot of discussion about whether as an industry we can get away from using the term “single use” pallets, which really doesn’t reflect the fact that the pallet gets recycled after first use, to instead use the term “purpose built” pallets.
  • Wood availability, which is the cornerstone of our manufacturing capability, is in good supply across global markets. There was a strong consensus that as an industry we needs to support sustainable forestry practices and reforestation initiatives. Can we imagine what would happen to our industry if we didn’t have healthy forests around the globe to rely on?
  • Manual visual inspection has long been the standard approach to identifying poor quality pallets. Research and development by the European equipment manufacturers has led to the introduction of new scanning technology. The latter allows for the reduction of the personnel involved in manual visual inspection for such quality control challenges as: nail head protrusion and nail depth, nail position, board dimension and board integrity, pallet squareness, and IPPC marking legibility. Now that this type of scanning technology is available on new pallet manufacturing, it points to the future of better tools to manage pallet quality. 
  • Around the globe there are increasing challenges with different interpretations of ISPM-15 and we need to work collectively to ensure regulations are harmonized in terms of how ISPM-15 is applied worldwide. 

We are an environmentally friendly and sustainable industry sector. 

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