When a $26 billion retailer such as IKEA makes a transport packaging decision, it can have important ripple effects for various segments of the recycling industry. Case in point, IKEA is now phasing out the use of wood pallets in an effort to effect $193 million in transportation savings. Truth be told, IKEA feels it can more fully utilize ocean containers when it uses specialized alternatives such as a low profile paper pallet or the Optiledge system that will exactly fit the size of the load, as opposed to standard sized wood pallets that might be too large and result in load under hang. And when it comes to pallet reuse, custom sized pallets are more difficult to resell, resulting in millions of pallets with no better fate than pallet dismantling or wood grinding. Paper pallets are more easily baled, and the Optiledge plastic parts also are readily recycled.
A couple points of note. Due to a lack of strength versus the wood pallets used previously, the use of paper pallets and Optiledge required an upgrade in IKEA's warehouse racking system - almost 650,000 positions in Europe alone. The investment is considerable, and will dissuade many companies from following in their footsteps. None the less, for many companies faced with the challenge of floor loading in order to get better cube utilization in sea containers versus unitization, Optiledge or low profile paper pallets may prove to be an approach profitable to explore.