Pallets, be they plastic or wood, are probably the most common item you can find in a warehouse or any factory. A pallet is a flat transport structure that supports goods in a stable manner while being lifted by a machine. It can be lifted by material handling tools: forklift, pallet jack, front loader, work saver, jacking device, cranes etc. It forms the structural base of a unit load which allows handling and storage efficiencies.
Pallets are often placed below goods and containers and are secured with strapping, stretch wrap or shrink wrap and shipped. The modern usage of pallets has superseded older forms of crating like the wooden box and the wooden barrel since its invention in the twentieth century. The widespread use of pallets can be explained by one very practical reason — it works well with modern packaging such as corrugated boxes and intermodal containers commonly used for bulk shipping.
Wood and plastic pallets are common and widespread. Metal pallets, paper pallets and pallets made from recycled materials are less common and have very specific use cases. Each material has advantages and disadvantages.
Plastic Pallet vs. Wood Pallet
Let’s us try to understand why some companies prefer the use of wooden pallets while others prefer the plastic.
Many people consider low-cost pallets, which often use softwood, disposable. Logistics companies usually throw them away as trash together with other wrapping parts, at the end of the shipment. These disposable pallets are often simple stringer pallets, and raisable from two sides.
Hardwood block pallets are slightly more complex and costlier to make. As such, the recipient usually sends the pallet back to the sender or pays a deposit is prior to shipment. Otherwise, the pallets are sold after shipment. Hardwood block pallets are able to withstand a heavier load compared to it’s softwood counterpart.
However, wood pallets can pose terrible biological problems as they are vulnerable to chemical and biological contamination, such as growth of bacteria in food and produce transportation, and even pest infestation. Food and produce industries tend to avoid using wooden pallets and instead opt for plastic pallets which they consider a more hygienic alternative.
Wooden pallets are vulnerable to biological risks like bacterial contamination and insect infestation. They can be mitigated by using ISPM 15 certified wooden pallets which have been debarked and then heat treated or fumigated with methyl bromide and then branded with a mark of compliance.
The most viable substitute to the wood pallet is a plastic pallet. They are very durable and light, and about the same price as a wood pallet. In addition, plastic pallet does not require fumigation for export, is half the weight of wood and it satisfies good storage practice for food and pharmaceutical customers.
They are light, tough and extremely durable — lasting for a hundred trips or more. Plastic spill pallets are also resistant to chemicals, corrosion, weathering and rot. They are pest free and able to handle wet environment well.
The dynamic load capacity ranges from 500 kg to 1.5 tons, depending on the design and raw materials used.
Durability & Service Lifespan
Plastic is long lasting and sturdy. This is especially important in the usage of plastic pallets as these must support lots of items of various weights many times.
Plastic pallets are difficult to repair, and can be ten times as pricey as hardwood, hence they are often used by logistics companies who can gain from their toughness and stack-ability. Many large supply chains have ramped up the use of plastic pallets due to the need to reduce costs through waste, transport and health & safety.
Safety, Hygiene & Ease of Transport
Due to the unique physical and chemical characteristics of the plastic pallet it is an ideal choice for airfreight.
Some plastic pallet boxes can collapse from plastic deformation (creep) if used to store heavy loads for long periods. There is no risk of injuries to workers as plastic pallets are light and have no protruding nails or splinters like wood pallets.
Foldable plastic pallet box usually has anti-slip rubber grommets to make the unit load stable and to guard against load shifting by providing a non-skid surface. Also, pallets and dollies can be combined to eliminate pallet teetering, the need for extra lifting equipment. Therefore creating valuable space in busy operating environments and as a result, it saves time and cost by reducing supply chain handling.
Companies usually customise plastic pallets to meet their specific shipping needs. Many companies would also mould RFID chips into the pallets to track and monitor the location of their inventory.
Usability is the major reason so many companies are going with heavy duty plastic pallets and many manufacturers have taken advantage of this by creating new designs specifically for each industry. In addition, many low cost options are available on the market now to compare quite favourably with their wooden counterparts. The use of recycled resin makes it even more affordable.