Plastic pallets are platforms used for the storage and transportation of products. The words "plastic pallet" and "plastic skid" are interchangeable, and you will often hear or read pallet descriptions using both words.
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Applications of Plastic Pallets
Plastic pallets are manufactured to store and transport products and goods of all kinds. They are valued for a number of reasons, most notably their strength, durability and chemical composition. Warehouses, factories, shipping companies and many other kinds of companies make use of pallets and skids.
Their properties give them distinct usefulness in a wide range of applications. For their superior levels of hygiene and sanitation, and because they are not known to cause cross-contamination issues, plastic pallets are valued by all industries involved in the production and shipment of products for human consumption. Industries include: agriculture, food service, beverage, pharmaceutical and medical equipment. They are also useful for the storage and shipment of hazardous industrial chemicals, and in the material handling and packaging, automotive and postal service industries.
The History of Plastic Pallets
Pallets Before Plastic
Historically, wood has been the primary skid and pallet construction material, but wooden skids are susceptible to splintering, breaking, becoming contaminated by pathogens like E. Coli, catching fire and a host of other problems. Most wooden skids don't see more than two years of service before they become unusable.
Wooden pallets and skids have been in use for thousands of years; they were being used at least as far back as the 1st millennium BC. However, after that, we have little record of their use in early modern times. What we really know of pallets comes from much more recent history, in the 1920s. The first US patent on a pallet was awarded to Howard T. Hallowell in 1924, for his “Life Truck Platform.” In the 1930s, newer pallet designs accompanied new forklift types. The big break for pallets came after the outbreak of World War II, when they assisted with production and logistics operations. At this time, manufacturers began using metal pallet variations, like the steel pallet, which was much heavier duty than wood pallet varieties.
Plastic Enters the Scene
During the following decades, companies like Robison Industries were quietly experimenting with using a thermoforming process to create reusable plastic pallets. Plastic pallets finally made their big screen debut in the 1960s. Possibly the earliest commercial reference to plastic pallets was in 1964, when Modern Materials Handling Magazine mentioned fiberglass reinforced plastic pallet containers. Early plastic pallets were made from thermoformed plastic twin sheets and injection molded plastic. By the early ‘70s, many new and existing companies joined the plastic pallet game, and manufactured a variety of container and pallet products. Early applications for these pallets included automotive, food and pharmaceutical processing.
Throughout the course of the late 20th century, though they were highly effective, most companies still preferred wooden pallets to plastic ones. However, this attitude shifted out of necessity in the early 2000s, with the advent of ISPM 15. ISPM 15 stands for International Standards For Phytosanitary Measures No. 15. These standards, initially adopted by most nations between 2004 and 2010, imposes strict standards of treatment onto all wooden products crossing international borders, including crates and pallets. Their goal is to prevent the spread of disease and invasive insect species. Because of this, it has become much more expensive to ship wooden crates internationally, and many companies have turned to the plastic crate.
The Future of Plastic Pallets
The environmental impact of widespread plastic pallet production compared to that of wooden pallet production is unclear. Wooden pallets are resource intensive, and the market for them requires an immense supply of wood to meet demand. Because wood pallets' life spans are so limited, new wood for pallet manufacturers must constantly be harvested. Plastic pallets, however, are derivatives of petrochemicals. The extraction, processing and development of petrochemicals and their derivative products are immensely resource-intensive operations. They contribute to environmental degradation on a global scale and fuel political instability worldwide. Pallets are used by all industries all over the world for shipping and storage. If wooden pallets were phased out, plastic pallets would most likely replace them, increasing the demand for raw plastic, refined petrochemicals and crude oil in the process. Plastic pallets can, however, be reused and recycled, which are not features of wooden pallets.
Ongoing development of plastic technologies and recycling of used plastic pallets may mitigate the environmental impact of plastic pallet production, but the businesses that make use of plastic pallets are ultimately responsible for maximizing their service lives and properly recycling them when they are no longer usable.
Advantages of Plastic Pallets
Plastic pallets have emerged as a favorite choice of manufacturers and shippers, thanks to the design improvements that plastic pallets have undergone over the past few years. While wood pallets are still used for the storage and transportation of goods, thanks to their many advantages and conveniences, plastic pallets are taking over the market. Let’s go over some of those advantages now.
Plastic pallets offer a level of durability that wood pallets cannot. They remain unaffected by moisture, water, and other weather-brought circumstances. According to industry experts, plastic pallets work ten times longer than their wood counterparts. If used in closed loop distribution scenarios under normal handling and loading exercises, plastic pallets can remain viable for as long as ten years.
Cost and Longevity
There is no denying the fact that plastic pallets are more costly than traditional pallets. However, when it comes to durability, as stated earlier, these storage and transportation aides have no match. Their permanency translates into cost savings. You do not have to go for repairs and replacements, and they are reusable for many years and applications. An investment made in plastic pallets can seem minimal based on their longevity and usefulness.
Another advantage of using plastic recycled pallets is that they are environmentally friendly. By raising demand for these plastic products, you are actually reducing the demand for wood, which is usually sourced from forests. Deforestation is a major contributor to global warming.
Plastic is a synthetic material that can be recycled once discarded or no longer in use. Recycling plants melt plastic and can reshape and re-prepare pallets, as per new size and shape specifications. Recycling of wood pallets is not possible as once they deteriorate, they cannot be used further. The only option for discarded wood pallets is replacement. Recycling is not only great for your costs, but also for the environment.
Plastic pallets are not likely to get affected by contamination caused by moisture and other related factors. Like wood, plastic is not a porous material. Additionally, plastic items do not have any pockets or regions that may harbor bacteria and mold. With plastic pallets, molds and contaminations are not really an issue. In a National Consumers League survey of wooden pallets in a perishable products shipment, 10% were contaminated with E. Coli and Listeria, while only 1.4% of plastic pallets were contaminated. The synthetic nature of plastic makes it a perfect choice for high humidity and other extreme environmental conditions.
Plastic Pallet Design
Plastic pallets can be made using several different industrial processes, including: injection molding, compression molding and thermoforming. These processes produce pallets that are durable, robust, and economical. To make new pallets, manufacturers can just reuse and reshape old plastic pallets.
Most often, plastic pallets are made from new HDPE (high-density polyethylene) or PET (polyethylene terephthalate) recycled from drink bottles. HDPE, the material manufacturers choose most, will not corrode or degrade when exposed to chemicals like acetone and calcium sulfate. It is also quite easy to clean. PET, or polyester, is an excellent water, moisture and gas barrier. It is also lightweight. However, using recycled PET can cost a bit more because of the effort that goes into cleaning it. In general, the plastics manufacturers select to make plastic pallets are: non-porous, resistant to inhospitable temperatures and unlikely to become habitats for harmful organisms.
Manufacturers make a lot of standard pallets. When designing any standard pallet, manufacturers must make sure that their pallets are able to bear a load without breaking, slipping or shifting at any time during storage or transport. They must also be accessible by a forklift, hi-low, or other variety of pallet jack, for movement within warehouses or for loading and unloading during shipping.
Custom pallets are quite popular as well. When designing a custom pallet, manufacturers seek to help companies make the most effective use of their storage and shipping spaces. They think about application requirements such as: stackability, rackability and nestability, unusual storage or shipping needs, and market standards. A custom plastic shipping pallet can be designed to accommodate different sizing norms, such as the European size pallet, which is significantly different when compared to an American pallet.
Plastic Pallet Features
Most plastic pallets are accessible from all sides, and some can even be lifted at their angles. This is possible because many plastic pallets are designed with an array of nine feet or legs spaced about their corners, sides and middle. Because of the sturdiness of the plastic material, if the load weight is appropriate for the pallet, there will be no give or shift in the material. Plastic pallets have a higher strength-to-weight ratio than wood; a plastic pallet that is much lighter than a wooden pallet is likely to feature a higher load weight capacity than the wooden pallet.
The characteristic that most sets plastic pallets apart from wooden pallets is that their service life can be up to 5 times as long as the average wooden pallet; used plastic pallets can remain in use without showing signs of significant wear or degradation for several years. Once a plastic pallet does reach the end of its usable life, it can be recycled and reprocessed into a new pallet or another plastic product. Additionally, some companies specialize in reselling used pallets that still have a significant usable lifespan.
Plastic Pallet Types
- Custom Pallets
- Designed to accommodate special requirements of size, handling and storage.
- Drum Pallets
- Specifically designed to transport or store a number of drums, typically either two or four, as a result of circular recessed grooves molded into the top of the pallet. Drum pallets keep drums of hazardous or messy chemicals safe and prevent them from causing environmental degradation or threatening workspace safety. They act as containment basins that catch spills or leaks from drum loads.
- Euro Pallets
- Also known as EU pallets or E pallets, are designed specifically to adhere to the pallet design standards of the European Union. You must use this kind if you wish to trade overseas to the EU.
- Export Pallets
- Used to ship products overseas and are usually made of wood.
- Nestable Pallets
- Named for its ability to be tightly packed into others when they’re all empty. One way of remembering this is by thinking of a similar word, “nestle.” Nestable pallets nestle into one another when empty.
- Wooden Pallets
- Pallets are usually wooden platforms on which products are placed and wrapped for transportation and storage.
- Plastic Crate Pallets
- Have walls or a basket to better stabilize and contain products.
- Plastic Racking Pallets
- Can be held on pallet racks for storage.
- Plastic Shipping Pallets
- Used to stack and transport products or materials.
- Plastic Skids
- Pallets with wheels for easier movement.
- Rackable Pallets
- Can be edge supported for indefinite periods of time on either the width or the length side. Rackable are meant to fit squarely onto storage racking beams, where they stay until they are removed by forklifts or jacks.
- Recycled Pallets
- Refer to two different aspects of plastic pallets: one being that plastics pallets can be easily recycled since they are very durable and two being that plastic pallets can be made from recycled plastic materials.
- Shipping Pallets
- Platforms used in packaging on which goods are placed for transportation.
- Spill Containment Pallets
- Or spill pallets for short, are pallets that ensure materials and wastes will be contained to the pallet if they leak, drip or spill from the primary container, such as a drum or IBC tote.
- Stackable Pallets
- Pallets with closed bottom decks that are designed to be placed one on top of another when fully loaded. Stackable pallets have closed bottoms for uniform, flat loads.
- Used Plastic Pallets
- Have been used to ship or store a product but are still in working condition.
- Plastic Export Pallet
- Used to ship products overseas. While the export pallet has traditionally been made of wood, in more recent years, the export plastic pallet has taken over almost entirely. This is largely because they are cheaper and quicker to produce.
Standards and Specifications for Plastic Pallets
All plastic pallets must all comply with strict shipping conditions standards. The United States Food and Drug Administration, for example, regulates consumer product handling procedures. Consumer studies groups like the National Consumers League conduct surveys of pallets in circulation and test them for contamination. If you plan on using your plastic pallet for exports, you need to make sure it adheres to the standards of the countries or regions to which you will ship.
Things to Consider When Purchasing Plastic Pallets
Choosing Your Pallet Type
Give a lot of thought to potential uses for the pallets you select. Plastic pallets can be used in environments in which products need to be kept clean and away from moisture. That is the reason why food and beverage, and pharmaceutical industries are adopting the use of plastic pallets.
Consider the weight of the products or items that will be placed on the pallets. Before choosing between plastic, metal or wood pallet types, determine the weight of the material that you are going to put on them. According to industry experts, plastic pallets are a great choice for deliverables that weigh up to 1500 pounds. For anything more than that weight, wood materials make a wise selection.
Understand the environmental effects of wood and plastic. Wood has no harmful side-effects for the environment, but deforestation is a major issue. Clear-cutting of forests is the most probable reason for climate change. Therefore, we should seek to reduce our dependence on wood-based manufacturing supplies. On the other hand, when improperly disposed of, plastic can have even more serious impacts on the environment. Therefore, whether you use wood or plastic pallets, you need to keep environment-related concerns in mind. Plastic can be recycled, whereas wood cannot be.
If you need pallets that can bear the weight of your products in your warehouse interfering with the aesthetics of your work environment, you can consider leveraging plastic pallets. Plastic pallets can easily be designed based on your unique preferences.
Choosing a Manufacturer
While choosing a pallet material may be quite easy, choosing the right manufacturer is not. To help guide you, we’ve provided near the top of this page a comprehensive list of reputable and experienced plastic pallet manufacturers. To choose from among these quality suppliers, we recommend you first browse their websites to get a sense for their respective products and services. As you browse, note the ones you believe could best serve you. Compile a shortlist of three or four manufacturers with whom you’d like to speak. Then, call each of them and discuss your specifications. Don’t forget to include questions about standard certifications, lead times, prices and delivery. Once you’ve done that, compare and contrast their answers. Pick out the one you believe will provide you not only the best product, but the best customer service.
Proper Care for Plastic Pallets
Plastic has a smooth surface which can be cleaned easily using a vacuum cleaner or a water stream. No other arrangements need to be put in place to perform cleaning and maintenance of plastic pallets.
Plastic Pallet Accessories
Accessories we recommend, depending on your application, include: a pallet cover, row spacers, RFID labeling, no stack pallet cones, pallet liners and other pallet packaging.
Plastic Pallet Terms
- Automatic Palletizers
- Assemble products on pallets by themselves or with little assistance; often part of a larger shipping system.
- Bag Palletizers
- Devices with gripping modifications specifically designed to arrange bags on pallets for shipping and/or movement; may be in-line or robotic.
- Blue Palletizers
- A pallet with its sides painted blue, indicating it is owned by the rental company CHEP.
- Captive Pallet
- A pallet which stays within a facility and is not exchanged, traded or delivered off-site.
- Corrugated Plastic
- A product typically extruded from polypropylene that has been fluted in a way that is similar to corrugated board and is waterproof, durable, resistant to chemicals, available in a variety of transparent and translucent colors and has a good strength to weight ratio.
- Corrugated Pallets
- Corrugated pallets are 65% to 75% lighter than their wood or plastic counterparts and are made from corrugated cardboard, corrugated fiberboard, laminated paperboard, or paperboard composite honeycomb and include structural reinforcements and spacers for forklift blades.
- The side of the pallet that faces upward or downward.
- Eight-Way Pallet
- A pallet that permits forklift entry on all four sides, as well as diagonally at each corner.
- Fork Entry
- The entry place for forks to move the pallet, usually between decks or under the top deck.
- Four-Way Pallet
- A pallet that permits forklift entry into all four sides.
- Promoting health; sanitary.
- Manual Palletizers
- Speed the stacking goods onto a pallet and aid with layer organization.
- The capability of containers of different sizes to be placed one inside another.
- Non-Reversible Pallet
- A pallet that cannot be used when turned upside down, either because it has no boards or have a limited number of bottom boards.
- One-Way Pallet
- An expendable pallet made of low-quality materials intended to be shipped once and then disposed of.
- Orange Pallet
- A pallet with its sides painted orange, indicating it is part of the Canadian Pallet Council pallet pool.
- Racked Across Deckboards
- The maximum load carrying capacity and deflection of a pallet where, at the ends of the deckboards, the rack frame sustains the pallet.
- Racked Across Stringers
- The maximum carrying capacity of a pallet where, only at the ends of the stringers or stringer boards, the rack frame sustains the pallet.
- Reversible Pallet
- A pallet that has deck boards spaced identically on top and bottom, permitting the pallet to be reversed.
- RFID (Radio Frequency Identification)
- A device that ranges in size from small enough to be inserted into a label on a package to a paperback book that is attached to an object and transmits data to a receiver; able to hold more data than barcodes, does not require line-of-sight to transfer data and is highly effective in harsh environments.
- Rotationally Molded Plastic
- Common form of production for plastic pallets because of the resulting strength, seamlessness and availability of custom designs.
- A pallet that has no bottom boards (also known as a “single-deck pallet).
- Slave Pallet
- A panel used to support the base of a palletized load in rack-storage facilities.
- Boards located between the bottom and top deck boards of a pallet.
- Two-Way Pallet
- A pallet that permits forklift entry in the two opposite pallet ends only.
- Unit Load
- The collecting of goods to be moved or shipped onto a pallet.
- White Pallet
- Pallets not painted or marked to indicate their ownership.