This article contains everything you need to know about Shipping Pallets.
Read further to learn more about topics such as:
- What are shipping pallets?
- Materials used in shipping pallets
- Types of shipping pallets
- Standard pallet sizes
- Phytosanitary standards for shipping pallets
- And much more…
Chapter 1: What Are Shipping Pallets?
Shipping pallets are packaging materials which provide support on the pallet during transportation (i.e., marine shipment, land transportation). They are rigid, flat panels that provide stability to the goods during lifting (using a forklift or pallet jack), stacking, and transportation. They come in standardized sizes, with varying designs and materials that suit the needs of the shipping and warehousing service providers. They are only a part of the whole packaging. After the goods have been placed on the pallet, they are further secured by wrapping and strapping.
Plastic pallets present more advantages when it comes to durability, strength and cost while being microbial and chemical resistant. Hence, plastic pallets are becoming the standard pallet material type.
Since shipping pallets are an important item in logistics and the whole supply chain, several organizations regulate the dimensions and sanitation of shipping pallets. Such regulations are made to eliminate downtimes and difficulties during transportation and to preserve the health and safety of the personnel involved in the shipment, the end-users, and the biodiversity of the recipient region.
Chapter 2: Materials Used in Shipping Pallets
The following are materials that can be used in constructing shipping pallets:
Wooden pallets are the most commonly used shipping pallets. They are best used for transporting furniture, sealed, and non-biodegradable products. They are durable, can handle heavier loads, cheaper, and easy to repair. The conventional wooden pallet can be made from oak or pine. They are easily gripped during lifting due to the high friction of the wooden surface.
Due to their heavy weight, they are costly and difficult to transport. They are also susceptible to insect infestation (i.e. termites) which is attributed to the porous surface of the wood. As an organic material, they are very susceptible to moisture, corrosion, chemical, and microbial contamination. Hence, wooden pallets are more frequently sanitized and usually coated with varnish to reduce susceptibility from such contaminations and prolong their service life. There are engineered variations of wooden pallets to overcome these disadvantages:
- Plywood Pallets. Plywood pallets are significantly lighter compared to their conventional counterparts. They are used to carry light to medium weight goods. Using pressure-treated plywood makes it resistant to pests and microbes. Plywood pallets are sturdy, have uniform strength, and dimensionally stable.
- Presswood Pallets. Presswood pallets are derived from wood fibers and shavings, or sometimes can contain recycled wood), that are bonded together and compressed to form a wooden block. These pallets are also lightweight and easy to customize, but still, inherit the trait of conventional wooden pallets of being sensitive to moisture damage.
Plastic pallets are made of polymeric plastic materials, which can be manufactured by several molding techniques such as rotational molding, thermoforming, blow molding, or injection molding. They are durable, have a longer service life (which can last for more than a hundred trips), and weigh less compared to wooden and metal pallets. These pallets are known to be resistant to corrosion, odor, microbial, and chemical contamination. It does not absorb moisture and can be easily sanitized. Hence, it is commonly used in the food, beverage, and pharmaceutical industries. On top of these, plastic pallets can be manufactured from recycled plastics (though 100% virgin plastics offer more superior performance). However, these pallets have high repair costs since the joints are seamlessly connected.
The commonly used polymeric plastic materials are the following:
- Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET). PET plastics are lightweight, cheaper, and highly recyclable. PET plastic surface is impenetrable by moisture, liquids, and gases.
- High-Density Polyethylene (HDPE). HDPE plastics generally have a high strength-to-density ratio and they maintain their strength at high temperatures. It is impact-resistant, which means it absorbs shock effectively if dropped during transporting or storing. Due to its excellent chemical resistance, it is used to ship hazardous industrial chemicals.
- Polypropylene (PP). Polypropylene is harder and more rigid than HDPE, but it is more expensive. PP is durable and resilient when subjected to continuous and repeated torsional and bending forces.
Metal pallets are often made of aluminum, carbon steel, and stainless steel. Metal pallets are commonly used in shipping military equipment, automotive, food, beverage, and pharmaceutical products. These pallets are strong, can carry heavier loads, and resistant to weathering, chemical, and microbial contamination. They can also last for many trips due to their extreme durability and can be easily sanitized. However, they have the most initial expense, cannot be recycled, and difficult to repair due to the nature of metallic objects. Due to its heavier weight, utilizing these pallets makes transportation costs more expensive.
Paper pallets are usually made of cardboard or corrugated sheets. They are lightweight, customizable, environment-friendly, and easy to manufacture. However, they have relatively lower strength which limits their ability to carry heavier loads and provide more protection to the products. They become sensitive when exposed to moisture and temperature changes, and can cause fires when ignited.
Chapter 3: Types of Shipping Pallets
Pallets can be classified in different ways. Support, number of entry points, deck configurations, and features and design of the pallet are some aspects to be distinguished, and also to consider when choosing a pallet.
The mode of support between the top and bottom deck board is crucial to the design of a pallet. A pallet may be a stringer pallet or a block pallet:
Stringer Pallets. The top and bottom decks of stringer pallets are joined by longitudinal slabs or boards called stringers. Two stringers are positioned on opposite sides of the pallet, and one or two more stringers are fixed in the middle in parallel to the outer stringers.
Block Pallets. The top and bottom decks of block pallets are supported with twelve columnar posts called blocks, which are located at the four corners, the center of each side and middle of the pallet.
The number of entry points. Pallets can also be categorized according to the number of entry points in which handling equipment (e.g., forklift, pallet jack) can access:
Four-Way Pallets. These pallets allow entry on all of its four sides, thus providing the most handling efficiency (i.e., less loading and unloading time) especially if the floor space is small. Generally, all block pallets are four-way pallets. They are the most durable type of pallet and have the highest weight capacity, but are also the heaviest and most expensive.
Two-Way Pallets. These pallets only allow entry on their two sides. Due to their fewer entry points, they require the machinery to maneuver to a specific angle to handle the pallet or a specific orientation that the pallet must be stored. All non-modified stringer pallets are two-way pallets. A two-way pallet can be converted to a four-way pallet or a partial four-way pallet by creating notches to the non-accessible sides to allow entry of handling equipment. However, these notches decrease the strength of the pallet and reduce its weight capacity compared to its two-way counterpart.
Deck Configurations. The top deck is where the product is mounted on a pallet. There are many deck configurations to select from, depending on the product and shipment conditions.
Open Deck Pallets. Open deck pallets, or also known as ventilated pallets, have a top deck board with gaps or perforations. The mesh (or spaces) at the top deck board makes the pallet lighter and allows easy drainage of liquid when the product is wet.
Solid Deck Pallets. Solid deck pallets have top deck boards which are made of a continuous sheet with no spaces that are appealing to most customers. These pallets are hygienic and easily cleaned because there are no hard-to-reach areas. These pallets are easy to transport and ideal for shipping small items since they have no spaces where things may slip into.
Double Face Pallets. Double face pallets have mesh or planks on the top and bottom faces of the pallet. The mesh or planks in the bottom deck makes the pallet stronger and distributes the weight evenly across the pallet. There are two types of double-face pallets: reversible and non-reversible. Reversible pallets have identical top and bottom decks and they are stackable with products on either side. Non-reversible pallets have different top and bottom deck configurations; the top deck has more planks to support the product during mounting.
Double Wing Pallets. Double wing pallets have top and bottom decks that extend beyond the stringers or blocks, thus offering more surface area. These pallets are used to transport bulky products and numerous goods all at once.
Features of the Pallet
Several features can be incorporated in the design of a pallet to provide convenience and ergonomic efficiency to shipping service providers and warehouse personnel. These features are more common in plastic pallets since they can be reinforced during manufacturing seamlessly to the pallet.
Drum Pallets. Drum pallets are used to handle containers filled with oil, liquids, and hazardous chemicals during transportation and storage. They are designed with a catch panel to contain leaks and spills, to prevent the substances from spreading and contaminating the workplace and environment, and also to make cleaning easier. The standard drum pallet can hold up to four 55-gallon drums.
Stackable Pallets. Stackable pallets have a flat solid base at the bottom which allows double stacking of products and other pallets. The support at the bottom ensures maximum stability, to prevent slipping or falling when the pallets are stacked with or without products. They are more abundant in warehouses wherein different stacking configurations are required and heavy loads are carried.
Nestable Pallets. Nestable pallets have legs that can be stacked with the legs of another pallet. Hence, multiple pallets can be stored on top of each other, when they do not carry loads, which helps free up spaces during return trips and storage warehouses. Unlike stackable pallets, they do not have a flat solid base at the bottom.
- Rackable Pallets. Rackable pallets have support on the edge of the bottom edge to allow them to be stored in racks without falling.
Chapter 4: Standard Pallet Sizes
Pallet sizes are standardized to eliminate the difficulty of handling materials by several equipment and vehicles. Such standards make fair agreements and compatibility among industries involved in the supply chain; hence making global trading easy. There are organizations and associations in different regions that regulate the sizes of shipping pallets. The most popular among them are:
International Standards Organization (ISO) Pallet Sizes
The table below presents the six ISO-approved pallet dimensions, which are used as standard pallet sizes by many regions. It is detailed in the ISO Standard 6780:2003 Flat Pallets for Intercontinental Materials Handling – Principal Dimensions and Tolerances.
|Dimensions in mm (W x L)||Dimensions in inches (W x L)||Regions most used in|
|1016 x 1219||40 x 48||North America|
|1000 x 2000||39.37 x 47.24||Europe, Asia|
|1165 x 1165||45.9 x 45.9||Australia|
|1067 x 1067||42 x 42||North America, Europe, Asia|
|1100 x 1100||43.3 x 43.3||Asia|
|800 x 1200||31.5 x 47.24||Europe|
There are pallet sizes from GMA and EPAL which were adapted and recognized by the ISO.
Grocery Manufacturers’ Association (GMA) Pallet Sizes
GMA sanctions the standard dimensions of pallets used for handling goods within North America. This standard tailor fits the pallet sizes to industry-specific needs. Some of the pallet sizes in the GMA standard have counterparts in the ISO standard.
|Dimensions in mm||Dimensions in inches||Production Rank||Industry|
|(W x L)||(W x L)|
|1016 x 1219||40 x 48||1||Grocery, many others|
|1067 x 1067||42 x 42||2||Telecommunications,
|1219 x 1219||48 x 48||3||Drums|
|1219 x 1016||48 x 40||4||Military, Cement|
|1219 x 1067||48 x 42||5||Chemical, Beverage|
|1016 x 1016||40 x 40||6||Dairy|
|1219 x 1143||48 x 45||7||Automotive|
|1118 x 1118||44 x 44||8||Drums, Chemical|
|914 x 914||36 x 36||9||Beverage|
|1219 x 914||48 x 36||10||Beverage, Shingles,
|889 x 1156||35 x 45.5||Unknown||Military ½ ISO container, fits 36” standard doors|
|1219 x 508||48 x 20||Unknown||Retail|
European Pallet Association (EPAL) Pallet Sizes
EPAL pallet sizes, or EUR pallets, are pallets that are designed to meet the export specifications within the European Union. Some of the pallet sizes in the EPAL standard have counterparts in the ISO standard.
|EURO Pallet Type||Dimensions (W x L x D)||ISO Alternative|
|EUR 1 or EUR||800 mm × 1200 mm
31.50 in × 47.24 in
|EUR 2||1200 mm × 1000 mm
47.24 in × 39.37 in
|EUR 3||1000 mm × 1200 mm
39.37 in × 47.24 in
|EUR 6||800 mm × 600 mm
31.50 in × 23.62 in
|ISO 0, half the size of EUR|
|600 mm × 400 mm
23.62 in × 15.75 in
|quarter the size of EUR|
|400 mm × 300 mm
15.75 in × 11.81 in
|one-eighth the size of EUR|
Chapter 5: Phytosanitary Standards for Shipping Pallets
International Standards for Phytosanitary Measures No. 15 (ISPM-15) is the “Regulation of wood packaging material in international trade”. It is a set of approved measures created by the International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC) to address the introduction and spread of invasive species through the shipment of insufficiently processed and contaminated wood. Raw wood originating from living or dead trees may be infested with bugs, beetles, and pathogens. The spread of these harmful organisms has negative impacts on biodiversity. The practices under this regulation were adopted by many countries across all continents since 2002, and are continuously improved.
ISPM-15 affects wooden pallets and other packaging materials such as crates and dunnage, with a thickness of greater than 6 mm, which uses coniferous softwood and non-coniferous hardwood. Exempted from this standard are the following wooden articles with a low risk of pest infestation:
- Treated wood that has undergone bonding (using glue), heat, or pressure treatment which has pest-repellent properties such as plywood and particleboard. Barrels, wooden boxes for wines, cigars, and other similar items are also under this category.
- Sawdust, wood shavings, and wood wool.
- Wood components that are permanently attached to freight vehicles and containers.
Raw wood which is used to create the wooden pallet must be debarked regardless of the treatment method to be used. Debarking prevents re-infestation while the wood is queued for subsequent processing. Only small pieces of bark, which are less than 3 cm in width or greater than 3 cm but with a total surface area of less than 50 square centimeters on the individual piece, are allowed.
Debarking must be done before methyl bromide and sulfuryl fluoride treatment because the presence of bark may reduce the treatment efficiency. When wood is subject to heat treatment, the bark may be removed after the process.
The following are examples of different types of treatments:
- Heat treatment using conventional steam or dry kiln heat chamber. For this treatment classification, a minimum core temperature of 560C for 30 minutes minimum must be achieved. This may be performed by exposing the wood to steam or using a kiln-drying heating chamber. Wood undergone conventional heat treatment bears the treatment code of “HT” in the IPPC logo.
- Heat treatment using dielectric heating. A minimum core temperature of 600C for 1 minute continuous must be achieved using microwaves or radio waves. Moisture content, size and density of the wood, and frequency of microwaves and radio waves must be considered to achieve the treatment requirement. Wood undergoing dielectric heating treatment bears the treatment code of “DH” in the IPPC marking.
Chemical fumigation. Raw wood that will undergo chemical fumigation must meet the minimum concentration-time (CT) product and final residual concentration across its entire profile, which can be found at Annex 1 of ISPM-15. Wood packaging material exceeding 20 cm in cross-section in its smallest dimension must not undergo chemical fumigation.
- Methyl Bromide Treatment. Treatment time is less than 24 hours with a minimum temperature of 10 °C. However, methyl bromide fumigation has been banned in all EU member states due to its potential of damaging the ozone layer. Wood undergone methyl bromide treatment bears “MB” in the IPPC marking.
- Sulfuryl Fluoride Treatment. Treatment time is dependent on the target temperature. Moisture content higher than 75% on a dry basis must not be treated with sulfuryl fluoride. Wood undergoing treatment bears “SF” in the IPPC marking.
Treatment procedures, which are done by approved providers, are regulated and supervised by the national plant protection organization (NPPO) of the importer and exporter countries.
An IPPC marking is placed by the treatment providers on treated wood to certify that it was subjected to the approved procedures set by ISPM-15. The marking is composed of:
- The IPPC logo
- Two-letter country code (XX) designated by the International Standards Organization (ISO)
- Producer code (000) assigned by the NPPO to the treatment provider
- Treatment code (YY)
The illustration above is an example of an IPPC marking and may come in variants which must contain all of the required components of the official mark.
Wooden pallets that undergo treatment in accordance with ISPM-15 standards and have not been repaired or altered are allowed to be reused without re-treatment. However, if one-third of the parts of a wooden pallet is replaced by raw wood during repair, it is then considered re-manufactured and must be re-treated.
Cleaning of Non-wooden Shipping Pallets
Pallets made from plastic, metal, and paper are exempted from this regulation and do not require treatment processes. However, cleaning and disinfection must be done regularly especially for pallets handling food, beverage, agricultural, and pharmaceutical products. Cleaning methods such as high pressure washing, power washing, and manual washing are employed in plastic pallets.
- Shipping pallets are used to provide support and stability in the products being transported. They are an important item in the logistics and supply chain industry, and their sizes and sanitation are regulated by several organizations.
- Commonly used shipping pallet materials are plastics, wood, metal, and paper.
- Shipping pallets are classified according to their mode of support, number of entry points, deck configuration, and features.
- A pallet may be supported by longitudinal slabs (stringer pallets), or columnar posts (block pallets).
- The entry point is where the pallet is handled. A pallet may be a two-way pallet or a four-way pallet.
- The deck configuration of a pallet may be an open deck, solid deck, double-faced, or double-winged.
- The types of pallets according to their features are drum pallets, nestable pallets, stackable pallets, and racking pallets.
- Export shipping pallets come in standardized sizes, which are sanctioned by several regulatory bodies. Among them are the ISO, GMA (North America), and EPAL.
- ISPM-15 is a set of measures that deals with the introduction of invasive species, transmitted by wooden packaging materials, which has detrimental effects on the biodiversity of the receiving region. Plastic, metal, and paper shipping pallets are exempted from this regulation.
- The approved treatment methods of wooden pallets are heating using steam or dry kiln heat chamber, heating using a dielectric heater, and chemical fumigation by methyl bromide or sulfuryl fluoride.