From toothpicks to toilet paper, forestry products are an integral part of everyday life. However, a key forestry product that helps move the world is often overlooked by consumers — the wooden pallet.
“Pallets really do move the world,” said Joe McKinney, managing director and owner of McVantage, a pallet and crate manufacturer in Muscle Shoals. “Most products you’ve dealt with today probably shipped on a pallet that came from us or a company like us.”
Low-grade hardwoods used for pallets provide a hidden market for the timber industry, he said.
Larry Jones, president of IndusTREE Timber in Wetumpka, agrees.
“We take for granted how products are moved from manufacturing plants to the stores,” Jones said. “A high percentage of hardwoods in Alabama are ultimately used to make pallets.”
McVantage uses mostly hardwood trees and a few softwood varieties to create custom shipping pallets for everything from milk cartons to fire hydrants, said company president Eddie Daniel.
“Odd sizes and custom orders are our niche,” said Daniel, whose customers are in the automobile, food, steel, aluminum, textile and chemical industries, as well as the military.
Special software creates plans for employees to build the perfect pallet engineered to fit customers’ shipping and cost needs. Some are designed to last for years, others for a single load.
“A shingle manufacturer only needs pallets to last through one trip to the house where a new roof is being built,” Daniel said. “On the other hand, a grocery store pallet is designed to make several trips. We have some pallets that have been in circulation for five years.”
No matter its original use, new life can be found for pallets through recycling programs at McVantage and Bay Wood Products in Robertsdale, another growing company sustainably serving industries in south Alabama.
“Pallet disposal was becoming expensive for our clients, and they asked us to pick up old pallets,” said Bay Wood Products Founder and President Jimmy Wilson. “We now have an entire facility to repair pallets and sell them back to our customers at a discount. There is no wooden waste leaving our facility. What we can’t use for pallets we grind and turn into mulch for landscape companies. The sawdust from the manufacturing process is sold to a paper mill and used to make steam power.”
The Southeast’s abundant timber supply allows McVantage and Bay Wood to buy most pallet lumber from sawmills in Alabama and nearby states. McKinney said that contributes to the company’s environmental sustainability. Typically, pallets are sold within a 150-mile area of where they’re made because long distance shipping isn’t feasible. But some pallets travel across the globe.
“The pallets we build meet the regulations for overseas shipment, and we have a third-party monitoring system to ensure we provide a top-notch product,” McKinney said. “Our pallets may be found anywhere in the world because of the international shipments from our customers.”
Forestry is Alabama’s largest agricultural industry and covers 23 million acres — about 69 percent of the state. Forests generate over $21 billion in timber production and processing revenue and provide over 122,000 jobs to Alabamians.
Alabama Farmers Federation Forestry Division Director William Green said trees are a renewable resource used for more than lumber and paper.
“Trees help clean the air and are home to a diverse wildlife population in our state,” he said. “Trees are used to make hundreds of products like perfume, paint, makeup, lipstick, chewing gum and nail polish. Wood or a wood byproduct is in every home across America.”