Life cycle assessment comparison among different reuse intensities for industrial wooden containers

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Goal, scope and background: The industrial packages sector has great importance for the transport sector in Europe. These containers, mainly wooden pallets and spools, are subject to European legislation, which promotes their reuse and recycling. This study uses life cycle assessment (LCA) to assess the environmental impact of the current management system in this sector and the benefits and drawbacks of different reuse intensities as a waste prevention strategy as opposed to the recycling option. Materials and methods: In this paper, four case studies located in Spain and representative of the wooden package sector in Europe are analysed: high reuse pallet, low reuse pallet, low reuse spool and null reuse spool. For the LCA study cases, the functional unit is that required to satisfy the transport necessity of 1,000 t by road. The impact and energy consumption assessment methods used are CML 2 Baseline 2000 and Cumulative Energy Demand. Data are mostly provided by the leading enterprises and organisations in this sector. Results: The paper provides, as a first result, a comprehensive inventory of the systems under study. Secondly, our assessment shows that the systems with higher reuse intensity show a reduction in energy and wood consumption and all the environmental impact categories except for the global warming potential from 34.0% to 81.0% in the pallet study cases and from 50.4% to 72.8% in the spool ones. This reduction is at the expense of the maintenance stage, which on the contrary increases its impact, although it is still relatively small-less than 7% in all the impact categories and flow indicators of the study cases. The highest impact stages are transport, raw material extraction and the process chain. The final disposal and maintenance stages are the lowest impact, contributing at most to less than 30% of the impact in the pallet study cases and 10% in the spool cases. Discussion: Wood consumption (WC), directly related to the number of containers needed to satisfy the functional unit, is the main factor in determining the impact of the stages, especially in the raw materials extraction and process chain stages, assuming that these are undertaken with the same technologies in all the case studies. Other variables, such as the management system, the maintenance index and the final disposal scenario, affect the impact of the remaining stages: transport, maintenance and final disposal. The global warming potential results obtained demonstrate the environmental benefits of using containers made of a renewable resource such as wood instead of using other materials, but these results are not expected to prioritise the lower reuse systems because of their better performance in this category. Conclusions: Reuse, a strategy capable of reducing the environmental impacts of the wooden container systems, is preferable to recycling, while the package maintenance tasks are still feasible. Therefore, reuse, combined with recycling as final disposal, should be encouraged to reduce the demand for natural resources and the waste generated. Recommendations: Based on these results, attention should be paid to the maintenance stage, which, being the lowest-impact one, could substantially reduce the impact of the remaining stages. © 2008 ecomed publishers.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)421-431
JournalInternational Journal of Life Cycle Assessment
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2008


  • Environmental impact
  • Global warming potential
  • LCA
  • Pallets
  • Recycling
  • Reuse
  • Spool
  • Wooden containers


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