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Pallet Materials – how do they stack up?

06 Apr 2016

Pallets are everywhere. Even when you don’t see them, most of the goods you buy will have been transported in a pallet at some point before they reach you. 95% of the pallets used into today’s logistics industry are wood pallets, but customers and manufacturers alike are increasingly turning to plastic or metal pallets to transport their goods.

Each different type of pallet has its advantages and disadvantages, and depending on your business, some will outweigh others.

Wooden Pallets

Pallets made of wood are cheap, easy to repair and versatile. They can be made quickly and cheaply, and it’s possible for manufacturers to make a custom order whenever necessary. They are also sustainable – wood, after all, is organic and renewable. There are no issues around recycling because wood is also fully biodegradable. This might make wooden pallets sound ideal for environmentally concerned customers.

There is a downside to wood, however. It doesn’t last nearly as long as the other two materials, so although each wooden pallet costs less to make in terms of money and energy, it doesn’t last nearly as long. This means new wooden pallets are needed much more often than plastic or metal. It’s heavier than plastic, so fuel costs when transporting wooden pallets are higher. And there are also health and safety issues. Wood pallets are more susceptible to insect or fungus infestation and more likely to splinter, causing injury. To comply with ISPM15 pallets must be treated if made out of wood or some countries won’t accept them.

Plastic Pallets

Plastic pallets are much lighter than wood, and so transportation costs (and back injuries) are kept to a minimum. They are also easier to clean and are not susceptible to insects, mould or fungus, which makes them more hygienic and a more acceptable option for international trade. They are easy to clean and extremely durable. They will last for years longer than even brand new wooden pallets will, and so costs keep going down as long as you recover the pallets after delivery.

Like wood, plastic pallets have drawbacks. The manufacturing process is costlier and uses more energy, as well as resources such as gas or oil. They are also more difficult to recycle, although they can be recycled and reused.

Metal Pallets

Metal pallets are exceedingly durable and hygienic. They are particularly useful if you require very heavy goods to be lifted – the sort of goods that weigh more than 4,000 pounds per pallet. Like plastic, they are easy to clean and hygienic. Metal is also very handy if goods will be stored outdoors or transported through extreme conditions.

Of course, the strength of metal is also its weakness. The weight of the pallets is a major drawback if you want to use air freight, for example, although aluminium pallets are available which are lighter than steel or iron ones. They are also the most expensive of the pallets to buy.

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