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Plastic bags and pallets - reuse and repatriation

Jess Duffell 10 Feb 2015

At home, the problem with what to do with plastic bags is a familiar issue. Stashed in drawers, hidden under stairs, or stockpiled under the sink, there never seems to be a shortage of them. Investing in a reusable shopping bag can eliminate this need for yet another plastic bag, or, for those of use who forget our bag-for life, most supermarkets run a plastic bag repatriation scheme, recycling them into new plastic bags. The same issue of  ‘material transportation’, is being solved in a similar way on construction sites.

On site, one of the biggest waste management problems is what to do with pallets. Brick deliveries, timber deliveries, in fact most deliveries include the use of a pallet. But that creates the problem of what to do with them once they haved served their purpose? Many pallets are sent off site for recycling, rather than reuse, a suitable option for broken pallets, but this is not the best use of a serviceable item.

Pallets are used for material deliveries

An obvious solution to this problem would be to encourage suppliers to deliver items without pallets, but this tends to be challenging. The BAM site team at Lees Brook Community School explored different options in an attempt to reduce their pallet waste.

They purchased ten plastic pallets for general use on site, as plastic pallets tend to have a longer life and are more durable than traditional wooden pallets. Subcontractors were encouraged to remove their own pallets for reuse as they made deliveries, and if a driver requested the use of a pallet, the team donated them as required. Despite these efforts to reuse as many pallets as possible, there were still excess pallets which had to be removed from site in some way.

Plastic pallets may be an alternative to wooden ones

When the number of pallets was relatively low, the team took advantage of a Travis Perkins free pallet collection service. Excess pallets were collected when deliveries were made to site. However, after a few weeks the local depot was unable to keep up with the demand for collection.

So the team then tried Scott Pallets collection and repatriation service. This service collects branded pallets, which are repaired if necessary, and these are repatriated with their original supplier for reuse. To help increase the number of pallets Scotts could collect, the team mended any damaged pallets on site as they went along. Scotts also removed unbranded pallets; although these cannot be repatriated and so classed as waste and sent for recycling. Over the course of the project 435 pallets were sent to Scotts, with 207 of these being repatriated and returned to use, saving approximately thirteen 8 cu yd skips worth of waste.

The completed Lees Brook Community School

Much like plastic bags, pallets will remain a practical way of transporting materials. But, as shown by the BAM team on the Lees Brook Community School site, by closely managing pallets and gaining a better understanding of how a site functions logistically, pallet waste can be reduced and a more resource efficient approach can easily be implemented for the duration of a project.

Jess Duffell is a Sustainability Advisor at BAM.



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