Pallets are everywhere. Millions are made every year. They come in all shapes and sizes but there are standard sizes. Some are made to be used many times but most are single use and end up being burned or in landfill. Before getting into the where and why, let’s just get some facts sorted out:
“Taking pallets is stealing!”
We often see comments that taking pallets is stealing. That’s certainly true for multi-use pallets. But most business will happily allow you to take their single use pallets. Of course, common courtesy says you should always seek permission before taking anything.
Somebody’s trash, somebody’s inspiration!
The scene above is happening in hundreds of locations every day. Thankfully, these pallets will at least end up as mulch. But for every pallet that gets turned to mulch, another ten end up in landfill. The bottom line is that these are waste. When you convert a pallet into a useful item, you are benefiting the environment and your pocket while rewarding your own creativity.
Multi-use pallets are always branded. They are also usually painted so there is no way you will be confused as to which is which.
“Pallets are dangerous to repurpose because they are all treated with toxins!”
Another mega-myth! Very few pallets, anywhere in the world, are treated with toxins. The facts are that most countries have banned the chemicals that were used to protect pallets against spreading vermin and unwanted ‘immigrants’. Almost all pallets made in the last decade are either heat treated or totally untreated. You will find a lot more information in our Pallets – fact and fiction post.
However, some pallets may be used to cart poisons or other toxic substances so it is common sense to know where your pallet has been. If it is stained and you are in doubt, do not use it for growing anything but flowers. It may also be best to avoid using it for furniture. Don’t worry… there are lots more replacements available 🙂
“You can’t dismantle pallets!”
Not true. In fact, there are a number of tried and proven methods for dismantling pallets so as to save both the timber and you from injury. Make sure you wear gloves and, preferably, safety glasses though as there is a major risk of splinters otherwise. You can download step-by-step instructions here.
“The timber is rubbish anyway. It’s not worth saving!”
Make no mistake, single use pallets are made out of low grade timber. But that doesn’t mean you can’t repurpose them. There are thousands of inspired examples showing that it’s all about how you use what you have!
I guess no-one told this person that pallet timber is rubbish…
Ok, so let’s get down to the where…
Sources of free pallets:
Start by thinking small. Your local hypermarket probably has a contract with a pallet recycler. Pallet recyclers think big. They’re lazy. They want to go somewhere and get a few pallets, not one or two.
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There is an abundance of pallets for those who look…
But it still pays to ask as not all large stores are contracted as I discovered when I happened to spy three excellent, three metre long pallets outside the loading dock of one of Australia’s largest department stores. I found the storeman and asked if I could take the pallets. He was delighted and even helped me load them into my trailer. His comment was that if someone didn’t take them, they wait until they get a few and then pay to get them taken away!
Those pallets had come from Europe with very expensive leather sofas sitting on them. The pallets were excellent quality. So good in fact, I still have them stored waiting for that special project!
There will be many businesses within a short drive of your home who sell all kinds of bulky goods. Furniture is the obvious one but look around. What businesses do you drive past every day? Many of these sell items that are shipped long distances. Most of them come on single use pallets. Here’s a short list to get you started:
- Garden shops and nurseries
- Auto parts stores
- Motorcycle shops (great source for crates as well)
- Lawn mower shops (also a source for crates)
- Smaller hardware stores
- Trash and treasure shops
- Baby shops (no, silly… where they sell prams and cots, not babies! Babies don’t come on pallets.)
- Pet stores
- Office equipment suppliers
Just open your eyes and they are there! But once you have found your source, be reliable. If you promise to take someone’s pallets weekly, do it. And don’t cherry pick. If you deliver, they will deliver. If you only want three or four pallets, be up-front about it. It’s a win-win situation.
Not good enough for furniture? Succulents don’t care!
Don’t ignore broken pallets. There will still be salvageable timber in them or simply find alternate uses for them.
Add colour to your fence 🙂
There are hundreds of projects for pallets on our site. Just search for ‘pallets’ and stand well back! There are other sites that are totally dedicated to pallets. You will never run out of ideas or, as long as you look, pallets to do the projects with.
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Try this great idea which requires so little skill yet offers so much benefit:
A simple project by Jeffrey at http://green.thefuntimesguide.com
Here are the most common types of single use pallets to look for:
The most common single use pallet types
Looking past pallets… scrap timber:
Pallets are wonderful but there are some projects that you just can’t do with pallets. Again, it’s just a matter of looking and asking. Do you live in an area where new homes are being built? Every one of those will have a scrap pile. Go and introduce yourself and ask if you can take the scrap timber. You will rarely, if ever, get knocked back. Most builders have to pay to have the waste removed. Some take the easy way out and burn it. You are helping them to manage their waste.
Think small and you’ll find abundance
You are unlikely to find six metre lengths of timber on a builder’s scrap heap, but I’ve found many 1200mm lengths and countless smaller pieces. The same applies to MDF and ply. Think small.
Waste from a renovation often yields treasure
Having said that, there are often large, usable pieces of timber discarded during renovations and additions. Since ‘time is money’ (and the client is paying anyway), it’s faster to work with new materials than de-nail old. But if you look in the pile above, it’s an absolute treasure trove including a full set of door jams! It’s a fact that a lot of the timber pulled out of renovations is better quality than the new timber being carted in to the job. Sure it requires effort, but the rewards are wonderful.
Renovations are also a great source for windows and bricks, baths that you can turn into raised gardens or fish ponds, tiles for mosaics and even some amazing doors that are simply hidden under 15 layers of paint!
Scrap timber is only scrap because no-one has thought of a way to use it. If you’ve been lucky enough to spend time in any third world country, you would have seen how timber, of any size, is never wasted. There is always a place where it can be used. Thankfully, there are a few first world businesses who are also seeing those same opportunities.
This TV unit from ReinspiredDesigns.com.au is 100% ‘waste’
How often have you seen an old bed base or sofa on the curb? Chances are that every one of them had a timber frame. And not just any timber. Most furniture items are built for heavy duty use. The frames are solid. Take a look and be surprised. Your local Op Shop probably sends a lot of old furniture to landfill every week. The condition is too poor to even gift. But the frame is still good for us to use in our projects!
Craigslist, Gumtree and Facebook Community Groups
Run a search on ‘free’ and stand back. You will be amazed at what is available either for free, or at very little cost. You might also try advertising for the things you want – or simply posting a request in Community Groups. Many people have items and building materials that were too good to throw out but that they have never found a use for. They are often happy just to see that someone can finally put them to good use.
Well, I hope that helps you to find all the pallets and ‘scrap’ timber you want. I’ve really only scratched the surface. Do you have a favourite source? Do you have any suggestions you can share? Just head to the comments box below 🙂