From dross to dance
floor; from garbage to golden flooring; from the landfill to the foyer: Whichever
phrase you favor, it’s what researchers at North Carolina State University
are doing with the ubiquitous, and usually cast-off, wooden pallet.
of being discarded and buried, wooden pallets like these can be recycled
into durable and attractive flooring.
Working with specialists
at the USDA Forest Service and the Land-of-Sky Regional Council, a nonprofit
organization in Asheville, the NC State wood and paper scientists convert pallets
into attractive flooring.
Like many useful
and necessary items, most wooden pallets fulfill their function and are thoughtlessly
discarded. That’s an expensive waste of resources: Phil Araman of the
USDA Forest Service estimates that 38 percent of America’s hardwood lumber
production, or 4.5 billion board feet, is used in pallet manufacturing, making
it the single largest use of hardwood lumber.
That means that
pallets also challenge the nation’s overburdened landfills. An estimated
170 million of the rough platforms for merchandise, no longer needed after their
contents are unloaded, become two percent of all municipal solid waste, and
more than three percent of landfills’ construction and demolition waste.
The problem is worst in the South, which buries 75 percent of the nation’s
So scientists and
extension specialists in NC State’s Department
of Wood and Paper Science are working to turn recycled wooden pallets into
polished wooden floors –as well as a handsome foundation for economic
in this flower shop in Asheville was made from recycled wooden pallets,
which otherwise might go to landfills.
According to Urs
Buehlmann, assistant professor of wood
products at NC State, the project’s ultimate goal is to create a new
industry for North Carolina. “The pallet-to-flooring project expands on
existing research and represents a multidisciplinary effort to build a commercially
viable, sustainable and successful pallet-flooring enterprise,” he said.
is already a big business, Araman says, generating about $3.5 billion annually
across the nation. But much of the pallets’ valuable hardwood ends up
buried or as mulch, animal bedding and boiler fuel, not as quality, value-added
products. “We want to capture the most value from these used pallets,
and convert them into building components and building materials such as flooring,
paneling, furniture, cabinets and similar products,” Buehlmann said.
In pursuit of that
goal, Buehlmann and his colleagues have formed a public partnership with the
U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the N.C.
Division of Pollution Prevention, the Land-of-Sky Regional Council’s Waste
Reduction Partners in Asheville, NC State’s Department of Wood and Paper
Science, and several North Carolina manufacturers and recyclers.
Funding from the
EPA and the Community and Rural Development program helped support pilot projects
and led to installation of pilot flooring in commercial properties.
Although the team’s
goals are “green,” their approach fully acknowledges the economic
realities of the pallet industry and its recyclers. “Profit is the predominant
driver for all recycling enterprises,” says Buehlmann, “including
rubber, vinyl, glass, metal, paper and wood. The best way to get material out
of the waste stream is to find the potential value in it and exploit it for
To reassure skeptical
investors, the NC State specialists developed a business plan that described
the likely markets, identified design and cost constraints, and demonstrated
the most efficient ways to select and process their materials. Wood flooring
proved to be firm ground for the project.
is simple to manufacture,” Buehlmann says. “It’s a $1.7 billion-per-year
business. It’s often made from the same wood used in pallets, and the
region already has the infrastructure to produce and market flooring. Finally,
trends in high-end flooring are favorable.”
For more information
Posted 17th march