Wood Pallet and Crate Recycling: Turning Waste to Energy

By Michael G. Collentine | 88th Readiness Division | Nov. 6, 2019

FORT SHERIDAN, Illinois —

Excess wood pallets and crates stockpiled at a facility can be an eyesore, a safety hazard, a fire hazard, a safe harbor for unwanted pests, and even a storm water violation if the wood has been saturated with oils or other potential contaminants.  What should be done if wood pallets/crates are becoming a problem at your facility?

 According to the National Wooden Pallet and Container Association, there are 1.8 billion pallets (93% made of wood) in use in the U.S. every day. Turning them into a fuel source when they are past the point of recycling is called Waste to Energy (WTE), and not only reduces greenhouse gas emissions but keeps millions of tons of solid waste out of landfills each year.

Recent experience at Ft. Sheridan, Illinois (IL131/17887) pointed to an option that aligned well with the objectives of the 88th RD Integrated Solid Waste Management Plan to:

  1.  Minimize the generation of solid waste through source reduction;
  2. Reuse, repurpose, or recycle elements of the solid waste stream to the maximum extent practicable;
  3. Divert solid waste from disposal in landfills;
  4. Effectively manage solid waste in a manner protective of human health and the environment; and
  5. Comply with all applicable Federal, state, and local solid waste management regulations.

In June 2019, the 88th RD Solid Waste Manager visited the Philip H. Sheridan Reserve Center/AMSA #138 to conduct a site solid waste audit.  During the site visit, it was noted that an estimated twelve, 30-cubic yard dumpsters of wood pallets and crates had accumulated in the outdoor storage area at the facility.  The Solid Waste Manager discussed the situation with the area Facility Operations Specialist (aFOS). The aFOS was faced with two options to dispose of the pallets and crates.

Option one included hiring a contractor to haul them to the local landfill at an estimated cost of around $15,000. Option two was to hire a contractor to come to the site and use a wood chipper to reduce the pallets to wood chips to be used in the production of mulch for landscaping (recycling) and wood pellets to fire wood furnaces and produce energy (WTE). 

The WTE alternative, which was implemented in July 2019 by Mobile Reductions Specialties, Inc. out of Sturtevant, Wisconsin, cost less than $2,000 and was completed in approximately 8 hours.

The cost savings of going to WTE was the driver in this case.  WTE was significantly cheaper because the contractor was selling the wood to WTE - so they could charge less on the front end to come get the material and shred it.  Because energy recovery (WTE) is higher on the waste hierarchy triangle than landfilling this solution was a win for the 88th RD as well as a win for the environment.  And the 88th RD can get credit in annual reporting for the amount of waste diverted from landfilling.

WTE may only be feasible at facilities within 50 miles of a WTE plant for the chipping and transport to be cost effective for a contractor.  It might be possible to get a contractor willing to haul further if the load is large enough. The following websites may provide useful information on available WTE options in the vicinity of your facility or within your state.

At tenant facilities, check with the National Guard (Owner) to see if they recycle wood pallets.

If WTE recycling is not an available option in your area, the following options may be available to divert the wood pallets from the landfill:

  • Find local entrepreneurs who repair and recycle pallets
  • Find local buyers who use or sell pallets for craft projects
  • Find local companies who need used pallets for their business or offer residential and business pallet recycling programs
  • Find local individuals who need pallets for wet basement, garage or barn areas to keep boxes or materials off the ground.