Manufacturers first started using plastic pallets in the 1960s. Before that, people had been using wooden pallets for thousands of years. We know that people have been using wooden pallets and skids since at the 1st millennium BC. Despite that, history has next to nothing to say about pallets. In fact, no one even received a US patent for pallet design until the 1924. That year, Howard T. Hallowell received a patent for a pallet type he called the “Life Truck Platform.” The following decade, as engineers came out with new types of forklifts, manufacturers came out with new pallets that the forklifts could safely move.
During World War II, manufacturers needed pallets for logistics and military supply production. Instead of using wooden pallets, though, they started making metal pallets, mostly steel pallets. They did this because metals like steel are stronger, more durable and generally more heavy duty than wood products. To a lesser extent, they produced aluminum pallets.
As we said earlier, the plastic pallet entered the scene in the 1960s. Its debut was the culmination of work by different companies that had been working out how to thermoform plastic pallets for years. Manufacturers were interested in plastic pallets because of the shortcomings of wood pallets. Wood, unfortunately, is neither a sustainable source nor a durable material. Wooden pallets are susceptible to breakage, splintering, fire, rot, contamination from pathogens like E. Coli, and a number of other problems. Most don’t last more than two years.
After successfully figuring out how to fabricate plastic pallets, manufacturers first began making them using fiberglass reinforced plastic twin sheet. Users found plastic pallets to be superior to wooden pallets, and so other companies quickly began manufacturing them.
Plastic Pallets in the Future
Though plastic pallets continue to be popular today, they are not without their problems. The toll taken on the environment by the widespread usage of plastic pallets, as compared to wooden pallets, is not yet clear. It is true that wooden pallets rely heavily on natural resources and, because of their fragility and short lifespans, the wood to make them must be constantly harvested. This we know is bad for the Earth. However, plastic pallets, which are derivatives of petrochemicals, are not completely innocent either.
Petrochemical plastic products are extracted, processed, and developed through incredibly resource-heavy operations that add to global pollution, environmental decline, and political instability. If plastic pallets replace wooden ones completely, the destabilization caused by the demand for raw plastics, refined petrochemicals, and crude oil will increase, causing unknown consequences. However, unlike wooden pallets, plastic pallets are reusable and recyclable. In that particular way, they are environmentally friendly.
This and ongoing research and innovations of plastic technologies have to potential to reform its current environmental impact. Business owners and manufacturers have a responsibility to maximize the service lives of their plastic pallets, to recycle them when they are no longer useable, and to generally act responsibly, for the sake of the Earth.
To make plastic pallets, manufacturers engage in a number of plastic forming processes, such as thermoforming, compression molding, and injection molding.
Manufacturers make plastic pallets from plastics that are non-porous, resistant to chemicals, degradation, corrosion, harsh temperatures, etc., and inhospitable environments for growing organisms. The two plastics with these characteristics that plastic manufacturers use most are PET (polyethylene terephthalate) and HDPE (high-density polyethylene).
PET, also known as polyester, is lightweight and impervious to moisture, water, and gas. When they use PET, manufacturers often get the material from recycled bottles or old plastic pallets. This is a win for the environment, though the additional step of cleaning the recycled PET makes its use a little costlier.
HDPE is the most popular material among plastic pallet manufacturers. It is easy to clean, durable, and chemical resistant. HDPE pallets in particular lend themselves to the storage and shipment of hazardous industrial chemicals because they won’t corrode or degrade even if chemicals like calcium sulfate or acetone spill on them or leak. This protects both the product, its surrounding environment, and the workers that handle it. Most often, manufacturers use new HDPE to make plastic pallets.
Considerations and Customization
Typically, manufacturers make and sell standard pallets. However, they can also design custom pallets to fit uncommon storage or shipping needs. Whenever manufacturers are selecting or designing a pallet for an application, they consider factors such as how much weight the pallet must be able to hold (load capacity), required accessibility and maneuverability (workers must be able to reach and move pallets with their equipment), available warehouse space, market standards, and customer budget. Based on these considerations, manufacturers can create standard or custom plastic pallets that are stackable, rackable, or nestable, made of the right material, and of any dimensions. Also, manufacturers can design pallets to fit American import standards, as well as international export specifications.
Plastic pallets have nine evenly spaced legs or feet. These make them incredibly sturdy, which not only makes them useful, but makes them more useful than wooden pallets.
Note: For a pallet to be considered useful, it must be able to bear a load without slipping, shifting, or breaking at any moment during use. In addition, it must be accessible by handling machinery, such as forklifts, for the purpose of loading and unloading/offloading.
Drum pallets keep drum containers carrying messy or hazardous chemicals out of harm’s way with their materials contained. They also catch any leaks or spills from the containers and prevent them from spreading into the environment or workplace.
Used plastic pallets can appear to be virtually untouched for upwards of ten years, and once they do wear out, they can be reprocessed into more plastic pallets. These are a great option for those looking for something less costly.
Nestable plastic pallets are plastic pallets that workers can tightly pack, or nestle, together, when they’re not in use. Nestable pallets help free up space in warehouses.
Stackable plastic pallets are those plastic pallets that workers can stack. To help them stay stable and hold flat products, stackable plastic pallets feature closed bottoms.
Rackable plastic pallets are pallets designed to sit on a pallet storage rack, directly onto its beams. To achieve this, rackable pallets feature bases with edge support.
Euro pallets are pallets designed to fit the export specifications of the European Union.
Export plastic pallets are pallets designed to meet a wide range of international specifications for export. Sometimes they’re called export shipping pallets. Euro pallets are a subtype of the export pallet.
Plastic pallets offer customers a myriad of benefits, both on their own and in comparison to wooden pallets. These include ergonomics and efficiency, high-strength-weight ratios, sterility, long service lives, weather resistance, strength, and recyclability.
Ergonomics and Efficiency
First, since they can be stackable, rackable and/or nestable, plastic pallets offer companies the advantage of ergonomics and efficiency.
Second, they are also light, with a high strength-to-weight ratio, which allows workers to load them with more at once.
Another quality that makes plastic pallets so desirable is their chemical composition. Their chemical composition allows them to be sterile, easy to clean, and non-porous. Because plastic pallets are non-porous, they resist inhospitable temperatures and other conditions that would allow them to become hosts of harmful organisms like E. Coli or Listeria.
Another characteristic that most puts plastic pallets a step above wooden ones is their service life; they can last up to five times longer.
Furthermore, export pallets and plastic pallets are water and weather resistant and do not require much maintenance in this area. In contrast, wood needs to be maintained and protected against such weather-related concerns.
In addition, manufacturers can engineer plastic to show strength and tolerance for heavy loads. While wood pallets can also carry a heavy load, since they fail on qualities like resistance to weather, moisture, and wet environments, they cannot maintain those loads for as long.
Next, plastic is a recyclable material that manufacturers can be melt, reshape, and re-prepare for its next use. Meanwhile, wood is not recyclable, and while wood has no harmful side-effects for the environment, deforestation is a major issue. Clear-cutting of forests is the most probable reason for climate change.
The exception to the plastic and wood comparison norms is presswood. While made from wood, presswood pallets are reusable and 100% recycle. Also, they are lightweight, nestable (and stiffer than plastic nestable pallets), and cost-effective.
Examples of plastic pallet accessories include pallet racks, pallet jacks, row spacers, pallet liners, RFID labeling, pallet covers, and no stack pallet cones.
Plastic pallets are very easy to maintain. Because they are plastic, they simply require that you routinely vacuum them or clean them with water. This water can be a stream from a hose, or it can be a soap and water combo that you apply with a rag. It all depends on how dirty your pallets get and your desired level of efficiency.
Plastic pallets must generally meet a wide range of standard requirements. For example, if you plan on using your pallets in applications related to beverages, pharmaceuticals, agricultural, food service, or any other application involved in the production and shipment of products designed for human consumption, your pallets must comply with stringent shipping condition standards. In particular, they must meet those standards enforced by the United States Food and Drug Administration.
In addition, your pallets must meet the import/export standards of any country or political/economic union, such as the EU. To learn more about applicable plastic pallet standards, talk to your industry leaders.
Things to Consider
If you have read all the way down to this section, we can safely assume that you are ready to purchase some great plastic pallets, or you would at least like to do a meaningful investigation. If that is the case, you need to pair yourself up with a quality plastic pallet supplier, such as those we have listed on this page. Every single one of those plastic pallet manufacturers we have listed has something unique to bring to the table. The question is, which one is right for you?
To figure this out, we recommend you take some time to jot down your specifications, including your standard requirements, budget, timeline, and delivery preferences. Having all of your specifications on hand while you search will help you more quickly determine which manufacturers may or may not be able to create your pallet solution. So, once you have written down all of your specifications, start looking at the manufacturers we have listed on our page, and pick out three or four with which you see potential. Then, reach out to each of them. As you speak with their respective customer service representatives, once again use your list as a guide. This time, use it to guide your conversation. Don’t be afraid to ask lots of questions! Once you have gotten done talking with each company representative, compare and contrast your conversations and the services each offered you. Decide which company is the right fit and give them a call to get started. Good luck!