From dross to dance floor; from garbage to golden flooring; from the landfill to the foyer: Whichever phrase you favour, it’s what researchers at North Carolina State University are doing with the ubiquitous, and usually cast-off, wooden pallet.
Instead 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 fulfil their function and are thoughtlessly discarded. That’s an expensive waste of resources: Phil Araman of the USDA Forest Service estimates that 38% 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% of the nation’s wood waste.
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 development.
Recycling pallets 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.