Plastic Pallets Gain On Wood

It is, perhaps, curious that much money is wasted in the global supply chain because certain alternatives to the timber shipping pallet that have existed for over 40 years are still largely shunned. This is not to decry the humble traditional pallet’s role in transforming handling efficiency since their inception, and significantly improved by the various pallet pools like Chep and LPR who are substantially helping to cut carbon emissions. Given the alternatives to pallets and the seismic impact multi-channel shopping is having on supply chains, however, will the conventional wood and plastic pallets see serious market contraction? It’s a hard one to call but what can be in little doubt is that the means of unitising pallet loads will need to change more rapidly to suit changing trends in the supply chain.

chazAs regards international trade the pallet of choice in containers is timber but there are several problems here. They are usually one-trip pallets to save on costs and as such are more prone to damage. On arrival at their destination they may need to be removed by pallet inverters and replaced with sounder pallets. They must also be treated against infestations before entering a country to comply with law, they are heavy and space wasting. An alternative to the container shipping pallet is the slip sheet, usually plastic, only a tiny fraction of the cost, weight and size of timber pallets. The only extra investment would be for pallet inverters and forklift attachments to grip the slip sheets. Another alternative is the entirely palletless system suited to sacked materials stacked in a way that leaves two voids at the perimeter base for a truck’s forks. The whole load is stabilized by shrinkwrap.

Pallets need not be of wood, plastic or metal. Some inventive companies incorporate a paper pallet into a disposable retail display unit, allowing goods to be taken straight from the delivery truck to the final point-of-sale. These paper pallets need not be wasteful as the material can be recycled if compacted and baled along with other cardboard packaging. Another alternative to the pallet, now commonly used by retailers, is the nestable roll container, which can allow direct deliveries from lorry to shop display shelves, thus cutting out much handling and need for storage space in the shop’s back store.

Demand for plastic pallets is growing steadily at the expense of wood, despite their much higher cost, but that cost needs to be set against advantages wood lacks. They are much longer lasting, with a normal life span of 100 + trips, easy to clean, safer to handle and far better suited to automated handling, owing to their lack of splinters and nails and much tighter dimensional tolerances. Much more hygienic than wood and requiring no fumigation, they are the only choice in sensitive production areas like food and pharma. Once damaged, however, they cannot be repaired. Their tracking can be made more efficient by tagging them with a contactless, non-line of sight RFID device. Plastic pallets can also reduce handling costs in sensitive production areas because they can be loaded directly on a hygiene-sensitive production line, thus cutting out one packing operation.

Although more costly than wood pallets, plastic pallet developments mean that they are feasible to use in export containers. Goplasticpallets, for example, claims that its Cabka-IPS range of 1200mm x 1000mm median duty CPP 8750 PO plastic pallet, made from recycled polyolefin, is low cost and so can be used by exporters as a one-way pallet for 1,500 kg loads. Even so, wood pallets dwarf the UK plastic pallet market, producing up to 55 million pallets a year, so wood will not be yielding its throne anytime soon.

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