interesting article Wood pallets are good as gold to some crooks

With lumber prices climbing, Chicago is sitting at a crossroads between crime and commerce
Wood pallets are good as gold to some crooks
By John Keilman
Tribune staff reporter
Published April 30, 2007
The theft, police say, was an inside job: Two employees of a St. Charles food service company waited until the coast was clear, then helped a confederate make off with a truckload of hot merchandise.
The men weren't after fur coats or flat-panel TVs, but something that not long ago was little more than landfill chum -- a mess of wooden shipping pallets.
Pallets pay
Experts say the spiraling price of lumber has made pallets valuable enough to steal, a sharp contrast to just a few years ago when companies let them pile up in factory yards. By some estimates, nowhere in the country sees more of these timber thefts than the distribution hub that is greater Chicago.
"I would imagine it's more frequent and unreported than it should be," said investigator Patrick Staples of the Northern Illinois Auto Theft Task Force, which last year arrested a man for swiping a trailer full of pallets worth about $2,300. "But if guys do this twice a month, they're making a good living and not getting caught."
A decade ago, companies traditionally threw away their worn-out pallets: One study found that more than 4 million tons went into landfills in 1995, making up 1.4 percent of the waste stream.
But Bruce Scholnick, president of the National Wooden Pallet and Container Association, said the cost of wood went up as sawmills became more efficient. They were able to use more of each log for furniture or building material, leaving fewer lower-grade scraps that are turned into skids. That caused the price of wooden pallets to rise to about $5 apiece -- and criminals took notice.
For decades, wooden pallets have been the favored platform for transporting everything from bananas to bongo drums, their double-deck shape built to accommodate forklifts. With 2 billion in circulation, they account for the largest single use of U.S. hardwood lumber, according to the pallet association.
Brian Cosentino, president of Skid Recycling in Naperville, said that during a three-year period his business lost 100 trailers full of pallets. Thieves slipped into his lot, hitched the trailers to their own trucks and drove away. Chicago police later found the trailers empty and abandoned, their contents presumably sold to unscrupulous pallet dealers, Cosentino said. As a crowning insult, he had to pay a towing company about $1,000 to get a trailer back.
"[The thieves] are pretty clever," he said. "They know what they're doing. If a plant closes at 5:30 in the afternoon, they'll show up at 6 p.m. and grab the pallets."
Enterprising thieves
Tim Hagan, manager of Commercial Pallet on Chicago's West Side, has found that enterprising thieves don't let the lack of a semitrailer truck prevent them from stealing. He said he has caught people sneaking onto his property and heaving 50-pound skids over the fence.
"If they'd work that hard during the day, I'd hire them," he said.
The trade magazine Pallet Enterprise has called Chicago, with its constellation of warehouses and factories, the nation's hotbed for this thievery. But with black-market prices ranging from $1 to $4 per skid, crooks have been at work from coast to coast, and it's not just wood they are after.
Each year, the U.S. Postal Service buys 2 million pallets made of plastic -- a material chosen for durability and compliance with international sanitary regulations -- at a cost of about $22.75 apiece. An indeterminate number of those replace pilfered skids, said postal inspector Amanda McMurrey.
The Postal Service gives pallets to bulk mailers to make deliveries more efficient, but some exploit the service. In February an employee of a mail house near Atlanta was arrested after he allegedly ordered nearly 10,000 excess pallets, then sold them to another company for $1 apiece.
"Wherever there's money to be made, there will be someone there to take advantage of it," McMurrey said.
Low-tech answers
There has been talk in the industry of attaching radio tags to skids, making them easier to track and identify, but for now pallet dealers are relying mostly on low-tech solutions. Some have attached heavy-duty chains to their gates, and others have installed special locks on their trailers, making them harder to hitch to rogue trucks.
St. Charles police say old-fashioned surveillance led to the arrests last month of three men who allegedly tried to steal 160 pallets from Compact Industries, a food services business.
After losing hundreds of skids in earlier thefts, company managers kept an eye on the loading dock and called authorities when they saw two employees loading pallets into an accomplice's semi, police said. Police stopped the truck as it left the company, and three people were charged with felony theft.
The Northern Illinois Auto Theft Task Force, based in Rockford, snooped a little harder to make its bust. When someone made off with a trailer belonging to Northwest Pallet Supply Co. in Belvidere last year, the task force followed a GPS trail to a row of cargo distributors near O'Hare International Airport.
Staples, the investigator, figured out that the thief had used a phony invoice to sell the pallets to one of the cargo companies. The man, who was soon identified though security camera footage and a photo lineup, was convicted of felony theft. He is serving 4 years in prison.
The rash of thefts partly explains why Cosentino, of Skid Recycling, recently got out of the business, becoming a pallet broker instead. But some say the rip-offs have a positive side.
"You don't see [pallets] lying around anywhere," said Brooke Beal of the Solid Waste Agency of Northern Cook County. "I live in the city, and you see people push them down the street in shopping carts. Five, six, seven, 10 years ago, you would see them in the garbage."
As the pallet association's Scholnick noted, the thefts are a reminder of the ravenous demand for his industry's product.
"When a pallet suddenly has that much value, it's good," he said.
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[snip]
Yet companies in Atlanta are begging people to take them - Craig's list (free) has pallets for pickup almost weekly.
John
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I used to heat my house with wood pallets. I lived near several places that put out wood scrap of various kinds. One place had big beam scraps that were shattered or in some way compromised so the could not be used as beams again. Nice, old growth fir that burned well in a fireplace.
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It's mixed here. The softwood pallets are often thrown away. But the hardwood pallets are often color coded and stamped with the material provider's name, and some are even branded with a stamp.
The lumberyard I trade at told me that they pay a $6 deposit for all the marked pallets of hardwood that carry concrete, bricks, tile, water heaters, etc. So they load them all up once a month and take them back to the vendors. The softwood pallets, or the pallets with the super thin slats go in the dumpster.
Robert
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John wrote:

Same here in CT.
Several industrial complexes in my area have signs out front offering free pallets.
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I used to work at a place where we would regularly get heavy computer equipment delivered fairly regularly. It was a State job, so there were a bunch of frugal folks with eagle eyes watching the pallets when they got put back out at the loading dock for trash pickup.
Some of them actually had hardware (short hex bolts and T nuts usually, but sometimes nice long stainless bolts and nuts), and that would usually disappear first. Then after a day or so, the whole thing would be gone.
I grabbed a couple of them once when I was building a built-in entertainment system, and I needed to build up the floor. I got 2 really nice full 1 inch plywood, about 4 foot square. Solid, too. I didn't find any voids when I cut it, unlike all the plywood I get from the big box stores. I wish I knew where I could get that quality of plywood.
-Nathan
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<snip>

Good grades of plywood are distributed through specialized dealers. I use these guys in the SF Bay Area. www.pals4wood.com Only a customer affilitation.
There are such folks in your area, most likely. The Yellow Pages, or a local cabinet shop, can give you clues.
Bring money.
Patriarch
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I've got several that are going to the dump next week, and every trucking company around here is overladen with the things. Chicago must be really different.
Most of the locally made pallets are mixtures of scrub red oak and tulip poplar, sometimes all of one, and sometimes SYP.
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There are pallets and there are pallets. I buy the 48 x 40 4 way entry because one of our customers specifies that we ship their product on them. At the same time, I'm trying to get rid of some 38 x 38 and a few other odd sizes that no one wants. I had a guy spend a week cutting them up for firewood just to get rid of them.
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Mon, Apr 30, 2007, 4:35pm snipped-for-privacy@sig.net (John) doth ssayeth: Yet companies in Atlanta are begging people to take them - Craig's list (free) has pallets for pickup almost weekly.
Depending on where the pallet was made, at times you can get some very nice wood of pallets. Even exotic wood sometimes, if they originated out of country. Well worth picking up a few once in awhile and see what you come up with. Kinda like a lottery, but free, never know if you're gonna win or not. Best case, you get some lovely exotic wood for a small project, for free. More often, you get some plain but decent wood for small projects. Worst case, you get some wood for a bonfire. Free wood is ALWAYS good.
JOAT If you don't ask the right questions, the answers don't matter. - W.S. Lind
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<snipped the rest>
And to think I had to pay to get rid of inbound freight pallets.
Outbound were all custom to unit size, designed for a footprint of a certain number and stack of boxes so that there would be no overhang and 100% support. This to get protection and to fill trailers with no voids for dedicated loads to the DC.
Inbound were always a problem to get rid of. If any came in that were hardwood, empolyee's would take them. Any others, a recycler would haul off for so much per load.
Were are the crooks when you need them. Maybe security was too good. :~)
Frank

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