Furniture retailer Ikea just announced plans to swap out wooden shipping pallets in favor of new lightweight cardboard pallets – and although this isn’t a change that customers will be able to see, the company expects to see a decrease in transport costs amounting to 140 million euros ($193 million). The thinner, lighter, and cheaper cardboard pallets will be sourced from local suppliers and they can support the same amount of weight as the wooden versions The only thing is that the cardboard pallets can only be used once, meaning that they will be discarded and recycled afterwards. Transportation costs may be reduced, but the verdict is still out if this the cardboard pallets are really better in terms of sustainability.
According to Bloomberg Businessweek, Ikea uses 10 million shipping pallets each year, and they’ve developed a new way to fold cardboard into pallets with the same integrity and strength as wooden shipping pallets. The new cardboard pallets are being rolled out this January as part of a new cost-reducing shipping campaign. The pallets are 1/3 the height of wooden pallets at 5 centimeters (2 inches), and are 90 percent lighter at 2.5 kilos. This lighter, thinner pallet will allow the company to ship more product at a time and save 10% on costs because it all weighs less.
In theory, lighter weights equate not only to cost savings in shipping, but also to reductions in emissions, which means cardboard pallets could lower the carbon footprint of Ikea’s shipping. BUT, Ikea has no plans to reuse the cardboard pallets after the initial use, meaning the cardboard will be discarded (and hopefully recycled). Wooden shipping pallets on the other hand are reused many times over and can be refurbished if they become broken. “We don’t know if the paper pallet will be the ultimate solution, but it’s better than wood,” says Jeanette Skjelmose, sustainability chief at Ikea’s supply-chain unit. Skjelmose goes on to say, “We hope this will be a start in making transportation systems smarter and freight as compact as possible.” Only a full life-cycle analysis could tell us which is actually greener.