Dangers of Upcycling Pallets
By UrbanEarthworm on August 29, 2013
Upcycled pallets and repurposed pallet crafts can carry hidden dangers. While re-using waste materials is an excellent step toward sustainability, it is important to do a little research before repurposing industrial materials.
For months - probably over a year - my Pinterest feed has been flooded with upcycled pallet and window projects. People are making everything out of these industrial cast-offs, from rugged compost bins to super modern pallet furniture. I didn't pay too much attention to this trend given that we have more furniture than we need at this point, but I did find myself wondering who the heck has that many pallets lying around? (or old but undamaged windows, for that matter?)
I envisioned people sneaking into construction sites and abandoned warehouses in the dark of the night and heaving dirty pallets into pick-up trucks. For some people, I was probably correct. Others, I've found actually go out and purchase pallets - which isn't necessarily upcycling, and IS, in many cases just greenwashing. Sustainability posers. Go figure.
And the source of the pallets matters. Aside from how moronic it is to fake sustainability, there are real dangers to be considered. Pallets used for shipping are routinely treated with extremely toxic chemicals which can linger in the wood and take EXTENSIVE remediation to eliminate. The USDA requires pest treatments on pallets, which often includes the use of Methyl Bromide - an incredibly toxic pesticide that my fellow Tomatoland readers will be familiar with. Methyl Bromide is illegal in much of Europe and banned or very seriously restricted in several US states. It can be lethal to humans and is known to cause severe birth defects. (Seriously, read Tomatoland).
Further, pallets that have been sitting - in warehouses, ditches, and abandoned buildings are likely to harbor mold, rodent-born diseases, fungi, and other such unpleasantness. The National Consumers League, after discovering E. coli and Listeria on shipping pallets has called on the FDA to begin paying attention to the spread of pathogens by pallets. There was even a Tylenol recall related to fumes on the bottles causing headaches, nausea, and vomiting believed to stem from a chemical fungicide present on the shipping pallets.
And I may as well add that if you happen to hunt down some authentic old windows that are in good condition, you're probably dealing with lead paint.
Safe Pallet Projects
Organic Authority recommends limiting your pallet crafts to the outdoor arena (vertical garden, anyone?) and Apartment Therapy suggests seeking out refurbished (*cough* cheating *cough*) or heat-treated pallets (stamped with HT) for your crafts.
For now, though, I don't think I'm going to risk it. MacGyver has enough scrap wood to reconstruct the Titanic, anyway.
For more everyday sustainability tips with a sprinkling of sarcasm from the working mom trenches, check out the rest of my work at Urban Earthworm.