Cheap and plentiful, wood pallets are used to ship millions of consumer goods from one end of the globe to the other, protecting them from damage. But they're often used just once and then discarded. While some are too worn to reuse, many are made of durable hardwoods like oak and walnut. Here are some of the uses for shipping pallets that reclaim this resource and either recycle it, or put it to work in the home and garden.

Because they're so bulky, and many companies sending and receiving goods use hundreds of them in a single month, pallets can be expensive to dispose of. Environmentally responsible companies are starting to rebuild, reuse, recycle or reduce the number of pallets that they use to cut landfill costs and waste.

Many firms work with pallet recycling companies that pick up used pallets and then use wood from broken pallets to repair others or create new ones. Worn pallets may be ground up for use as landscape mulch, compost or the main ingredient in particle board. At some DuPont facilities, pallets are shredded and made into animal bedding.

Some companies, like Greystone Logistics, are choosing alternatives to wooden pallets that last longer. Greystone now manufactures its pallets from 100 percent recycled plastic made from post-consumer waste like milk jugs, pill bottles and car bumpers.

Consumers are taking advantage of this often-wasted resource as well with DIY projects that transform discarded shipping pallets into upcycled furniture and other crafts. Some creative uses for shipping pallets include upcycled pet beds, rustic bird houses, firewood sheds and vertical gardens.

If you want to take advantage of the many uses for shipping pallets in a project of your own, there are certain safety precautions you should take. Here are six tips for choosing a pallet, cleaning it and preparing it for its new purpose.

How to choose and prepare a shipping pallet for reuse

  1. Check stores that receive shipments of stone or heavy equipment for the best quality pallets. When possible, avoid pallets that have been used to ship materials overseas, since they're sometimes sprayed with pesticides.
  2. Look for pallets that are stamped with "HT," which indicates that they have been kiln-dried rather than chemically treated to make them resistant to pests and rot.
  3. Pass on pallets that look stained or oily, contain a lot of twisted nails or have a bad smell.
  4. When you get your salvaged pallets home, scrub them with soap and water, rinse them well and allow them to dry thoroughly. Immediately remove all nails.
  5. If you're concerned about germs or mold from pallets that may have been used and stored in damp places, spray the pallets with white vinegar and leave them in direct sunlight for a few days before bringing them inside.
  6. Some pallet wood may have a coarse surface that could lead to splinters. Sand the surface smooth before using them to create items you'll be touching on a regular basis, like furniture.