Pallets seem pretty mundane. But the national media has picked up on the Plastics vs. Wood pallet war.
One side slams the other on hot-button issues of chemicals and public health. The really stinging rhetoric comes from high-level trade associations and the major rental company for plastic pallets. Companies that actually mold and thermoform the plastic pallets generally stay out of the war of words, their executives said at the recent Material Handling & Logistics Show in Cleveland. The message: Plastics and wood will continue to coexist.
“The wood pallet is a wonderful material. The plastic pallet is a niche business, and it will never overtake the wood pallet,” said Gat Ramon, president of Cabka GmbH, which injection molds pallets.
Freedonia Group Inc. of Cleveland predicts that U.S. demand for plastic pallets will grow 2.4 percent a year, to more than 130 million units in 2012. Wood pallets will grow 1 percent, to hit 1.5 billion.
What has sparked the press coverage? Questions are circulating about a flame retardant used in some plastic pallets called deca-bromine. A chemical preservative reportedly used in some wood pallets sourced from outside the U.S. has also raised concerns. Johnson & Johnson said the chemical in wood pallets caused an unusual moldy, musty odor that went into packaged products, resulting in a recall of Tylenol, Motrin and other over-the-counter medicines.
It has become a heated battle, mainly between the 4-year-old Intelligent Global Pooling Systems Co. LLC, which circulates a pool of plastic pallets, and the National Wooden Pallet and Container Association.
Led by Chairman and CEO Bob Moore, iGPS has pumped out news releases with some pretty inflammatory headlines: “Tylenol Recall Confirms Congress, FDA Must Regulate Wood Pallets to Prevent Threats to U.S. Food, Drug Supply” and “Tests Find Wood Pallets Harbor Deadly Food Poisoning Bacteria.” It's like the National Enquirer of the pallet industry.
NWPCA is normally much more staid than iGPS. But how about this press release last year from the wood pallet folks: “Plastic Pallets: From Fire Hazard to Toxic Platform?” (Hey, at least they phrased it as a question ...)
Both issues are complex, but here is some perspective:
* U.S. manufacturers of deca-bromine and the Environmental Protection Agency have entered into an agreement to phase out the flame retardant.
* The wood-pallet issue involves a chemical called 2,4 6-tribromoanisole, or TBA, which results from the breakdown of another, TPB (tribromophenol). TBA is used in some countries as a wood preservative to control insects, fungi and bacteria in some lumber products — but according to the NWPCA, EPA does not allow TBA for that type of use in the U.S.
In Cleveland, several industry sources said they think the allegedly offending pallets came from Latin America. If that's true, why can't we have global pallet standards for our “global economy?”
Bregar is an Akron, Ohio-based Plastics News senior reporter.