RFID Builds Sustainability into Construction Pallet

By Claire Swedberg

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  • The Pallet Loop is providing reusable pallets to the UK’s construction industry for delivery of materials from tools to bricks and cables.
  • With RFID on each pallet and RFID readers throughout the supply chain, The Pallet Loop’s solution from MiTeq allows users to access data to improve supply chain sustainability.

While many UK industries have adopted reusable packaging and transport equipment, to reduce waste in their supply chain, the construction sector has been behind some of the pack. Now a solution using reusable wooden pallets, leveraging RFID technology, offers a way to boost sustainability in the construction supply chain.

Reusable pallet startup company The Pallet Loop this month is releasing its new “green pallets,” each of which will be fitted with a single passive UHF RFID tag, to help track its movements. The wooden pallets can be used repeatedly, and the RFID data from tag reads generates information about the movement of pallets and associated building materials as they pass through the supply chain.

The Pallet Loop, using a RFID solution provided by MiTEQ, intends to employ data from each RFID tag read to better track the number of pallets issued to customers as well as the collection and recovery rates of each asset.

However, the data is intended to benefit the pallet company’s customers as well. It includes information about the number of pallet used, and the associated financial and carbon savings they are achieving by putting them back into “the loop.”

Eliminating Single Use Pallets

In the long-term, the data generated by RFID tag read could be leveraged by building products users through the construction supply chain to access information about pallet movements and associated product dwell times, setting them on a course to achieving greater efficiencies, according to The Pallet Loop officials.

Each year UK construction projects collectively use about 20 million wooden pallets to transport building materials—most used  just once before being disposed of. In contrast, the fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) sector is typically leveraging reusable pallets.

In 2021, when The Pallet Loop launched, more than 20 of the UK’s largest building material manufacturers, contractors and building companies and distributors signed a charter acknowledging that change was needed when it came to use of pallets across the sector. Subsequently, The Pallet Loop released its first circular economy pallets for transporting building materials.

Last month, British Gypsum announced it would become the first building materials manufacturer in the UK to form a strategic partnership with The Pallet Loop to reduce pallet waste. The manufacturer uses approximately 1.6 million white timber pallets every year and its switch to a circular pallet re-use program is set to reduce avoidable waste.

The Importance of Pallets in Construction

The idea of The Pallet Loop, as a circular-economy pallet solution for the construction sector, was conceived in 2019. The company launched in 2021 and the first RFID-pallets roll out this month, said Steve Ottaway, The Pallot Loop’s head of operations.

“Pallets are the workhorses of the construction industry worldwide, helping to transport all kinds of building materials,” said Ottaway. Those materials can include everything from bricks to bagged plaster and plasterboard, roofing tiles and insulation rolls.

Additionally, Ottaway said, pallets touch every point of the building materials and construction supply chain. Their journey starts with manufacturers of building materials, who load their products onto pallets and ship them around the country. Pallets and materials are distributed to builders’ merchants and distribution centers, then travel onwards to principal contractors, housebuilding companies and sometimes houses.

Bringing Intelligence to Each Shipment

“When we launched The Pallet Loop, our main objective was to solve the problem of pallet waste by providing a range of pallets that are stronger, standardized in their design, and suitable for reuse,” said Ottaway. By leveraging the reusable pallets, the company also saw an opportunity to make the pallets “smart.”

All green pallets, rolling out this year, are equipped with RFID tags that will help The Pallet Loop track its assets as they leave production sites as well as when they are returned to collection hubs for checking before re-use.

“In supply chain management and logistics, data has always been king. That’s now also the case for sustainability,” according to Ottaway.

The technology is aimed at helping users satisfy their own company requirements by generating data for sustainability reporting as well.

How it Works

MiTEQ RFID labels —designed to be robust, waterproof and abrasion resistant—are attached to each pallet. Each tag is encoded with a unique ID that is linked to data related to that specific pallet.

As pallets are sent from Green Loop manufacturing sites to customers for loading, the tags are read either by a hand-held device or one of the fixed readers installed at the Pallet Loop’s manufacturing and “repatriation” sites.

The tag data can then be linked to details about the pallet shipment as well as when it was made and its original delivery. In addition to reading tags at pallet stacking sites, readers can be deployed to capture tag reads on vehicles.

Pallet Loop’s PowerBI cloud-based reporting platform provides pallet related data, with the RFID reads increasing the data being automatically captured. For instance, data from RFID tag reads will capture which building materials manufacturer pallets were sent to, and when.

“It will provide us with inbound data as we collect the pallets and repatriate them to our collection hubs. Pallets will then be checked, fixed if necessary, and put back in the loop—starting the process again,” said Ottaway.

Long- and Short-Term Values from RFID

By collecting tag read data, The Pallet Loop will understand the levels of returned pallets, by type, as well as routes through the supply chain, dwell times and levels of damage during transportation.

To encourage the return of pallets, The Pallet Loop is offering its end users a financial pay back of up to £4 ($5) for every Loop pallet they return.

Eventually the pallets could be provided in other parts of the world. “The problem posed by pallets is obviously a sector wide problem – affecting countries worldwide,” said Ottaway.

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