DOI: 10.3390/su151712687 ISSN:

Sustainable and Secure Transport: Achieving Environmental Impact Reductions by Optimizing Pallet-Package Strength Interactions during Transport

Saewhan Kim, Laszlo Horvath, Jennifer D. Russell, Jonghun Park
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law
  • Renewable Energy, Sustainability and the Environment
  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Building and Construction

Increasing quantities of products are being transported across widely distributed supply networks; the sustainability of the packaging used to transport these goods, or unit loads, presents an area of potential concern. The most common type of unit load in the U.S. is wooden pallets supporting various configurations of stacked corrugated boxes. Research into unit load cost optimization revealed that increasing the stiffness of a pallet’s top deck can significantly affect the strength of the assembled, stacked corrugated boxes and provides opportunities to reduce the board grade required for accompanying corrugated boxes. However, there remains a knowledge gap regarding the environmental implications of this type of unit load optimization method. To address this, we conducted a life cycle analysis (LCA) to investigate the environmental implications of optimizing a unit load using this method. The environmental impacts of paired (pallet and box) unit load design scenarios (n = 108) were investigated using varied wood species, pallet top deck thicknesses, corrugated boxes sizes, corrugated flutes, and board grades. Initial and optimized unit load scenarios ensured that the unit loads offered equivalent performance. LCA results indicate that optimizing the unit load can reduce environmental impacts by up to 23%, with benefits accruing across most impact categories primarily due to the reduction in corrugated material used. Ozone depletion, the exception, was mainly affected by the increase in the amount of required pallet materials. This study provides minimum required conditions as preliminary guidance for determining the usefulness of unit load specific analysis, and a sensitivity analysis confirmed these values remain unchanged even with different transportation distances. Through the unit load optimization method, this study demonstrates that an effective way to reduce the overall environmental impact and cost of transported unit loads involves increasing the stiffness of the top decks and reducing the corrugated board grade.

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