Can Ikea paper pallets stand up to wood?

The Swedish furniture company hopes to save on transportation and reduce its environmental impact by substituting corrugated card for wood in its shipping pallets.

Furniture retailer Ikea Group plans to ditch wood pallets for transporting goods to and from its stores in favor of paper-derived alternatives. The company uses something like 10 million pallets, so this isn't exactly a decision that has been made lightly. Its motivation is both to cut transportation expenses and to reduce its environmental impact.

A Bloomberg article about the strategy reports that the paper pallets will work their way into the IKEA supply chain by January 2012. The company hopes to save at least 10 percent in transport costs by making the switch, according to the article. That is because the pallets are slightly smaller and much, much lighter.

The pallets have been designed to handle the same weight as their wooden kin, approximately 1,650 pounds. They are made from a folded corrugated card that is locally sourced depending on where Ikea product shipments originate. They are one-use items. That is, they can be used once before they are pulped.

That strategy, in particular, is one that Bloomberg reports could be a big challenge in adoption. That is because the container industry typically uses an outsourced pooling system that is shared by consumer goods companies. Apparently, it has been this way since the 1940s and 1950s, when transportation companies started using standard container-based approaches to improve efficiency. The paper pallets aren't seen as being relevant or appropriate for pooling initiatives, according to a number of packaging experts that Bloomberg quotes in its story. So, Ikea will be pretty much going it on their own.

One packaging experts, Jeff McBee of Industrial Reporting in Ashland, Va., told Bloomberg:

"This obviously looks good to Ikea on paper, but I'd like to see what they have to say a year from now. I'm not necessarily skeptical, but it may be closer to a wash than they expect."

Regardless of what Ikea does find, the paper pallet strategy is another example of how sustainability initiatives promise to rewrite the rules of many existing industries and assumptions about the way we "have to" do business.

via Bloomberg

(Image courtesy of Ikea Group)

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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