20 Feb 2016
When thinking of something as ubiquitous as the pallet, the two materials that spring to mind are wood and plastic. In reality, pallets can be manufactured from a variety of materials, including metal, plywood and cardboard, depending on the application. Fortunately, we’ve collected all the information that you need to make a decision based on your needs.
What Actually Is a Pallet?
A pallet is a flat platform used as a base for storing and transporting goods. They provide protection to the goods stacked on them, and another pallet can be stacked on top without causing damage. Built to a standard pallet size in the UK, they are a common sight in warehouses everywhere.
Made from steel or aluminium, these are used for shipping heavy goods or for outdoor storage. They are the strongest, most durable pallet available. The ease of cleaning metal pallets makes them very popular in food-related industries. However, they are very heavy compared to alternative materials, making them more costly to transport.
Plywood is a lightweight material perfect for transporting light goods that need protective packaging. They are stronger than you might think, and their weight makes them ideal for cost-effective transportation. However, exposure to water can damage them, making them unsuitable for outdoor storage.
The most common form of pallet design, wood is strong and very cheap. Whereas metal or plastic pallets are difficult to repair, wooden pallets are constructed from several boards which can easily be removed and replaced as necessary. However, they are heavier than plastic or plywood, increasing shipping costs.
Additionally, wooden pallets have to be ISPM15 compliant. ISPM15 is an international convention designed to prevent the spread of invasive insects and bacteria. ‘ISPM15 compliant’ means that the pallet has been treated to kill these things. Heat treated wooden pallets are therefore essential for international shipping.
Modern plastic pallets are durable, lightweight and reusable. Lasting around 10 years, their long service life offsets their initially higher cost. They are exempt from international regulations on heat treated wooden pallets, minimising supply chain disruption. Plastic pallets also won’t chip or splinter, making them much safer to handle, and they are easy to clean.
Overall, wood and plastic are the most commonly used solutions. Wood, in particular, is very cost-effective, but plastic’s low weight and durability make it a strong contender. Which one you choose depends on your circumstances. In a one-way flow, it would be wasteful to employ the more expensive plastic pallets – if they can’t be retrieved, then wood is the cheaper option.
Additionally, plastic does not provide as much friction as wood. This is important as the goods being shipped can easily slide off the pallet during loading and transportation, causing damage. Wood is strong, robust and has good grip, avoiding this.