The greatest contribution to packaging diversion in Canada is wood pallet reuse and recycling. In fact, without this new industry, the early success of the National Packaging Protocol (NaPP) — 51 per cent diversion by 1996 (baseline 1998) — would have never been achieved.
With over 95 per cent of pallets reused or recycled per year (2.4-million tonnes) and an annual industry growth rate of 18 per cent, the pallet business is one of Canada’s 3Rs success stories. Leading the charge is Ontario’s Wood Waste Solutions (WWS) which currently operates four plants in Windsor, London, Markham and Brampton, Ontario. The company handles about 55,000 tonnes of pallets (3 million units) and 25,000 tonnes of wood waste each year.
Prompted by the supposed landfill crisis of the late 1980s, Ontario municipalities began to ban pallets from their landfills and increase tip fees. Tim McGillion, founder and president of WWS, recognized an opportunity and began to broker pallets and chip wood waste. Today, WWS generates about $10-million in sales and employs 115 people at its four plants.
Sixty per cent of all incoming pallets are purchased for between one and ten dollars per each and are sold for reuse. Thirty per cent require fixing, refurbishing or complete disassembly and reconstruction. With modern equipment, disassembly and reconstruction of one pallet can take less than a minute and a half!
The remaining ten per cent of pallets (along with other non-pallet wood waste) is processed into wood-chip and marketed as: particle board, paper, roofing felt, landscaping mulch, fire logs, carbon compost supplement and, most recently, livestock bedding. The principal pallet generators are the retail industry and the automotive, food and beverage, and paper manufacturers.
According to McGillion, ten years ago most of these markets used virgin wood for their applications while today the products contain between 25 and 75 per cent recycled content.
Today large manufacturers want all their packaging to be reusable and returnable, which is where WWS is now focusing its effort.
Under contract with a number of large car manufacturers in southern Ontario, WWS manages all reusable packaging from their auto parts suppliers. WWS collects, fixes, sorts and returns containers, sleeves, crates and other reusable packaging to the parts industry.
“With this new system of packaging management, companies can save hundreds of thousands of dollars by reducing landfill and recycling costs, labour and storage space requirements,” says McGillion.
The import of pallets from the U.S. for Canadian dollars and the resale for U.S. dollars has also become a very profitable business — so much so that Canadian industries may soon find reusable/refurbished pallets hard to come by. For example, WWS imports about half a million pallets from the U.S. annually, with about 30 per cent of sales coming from south of the boarder. Gordon Hughes, executive director of the Canadian Wood Pallet and Container Association predicts that with increased demand Canadian pallet producers will soon see an increase in demand for new product.