Pallet material types are as diverse as the products pallets carry. Some pallet materials are popular due to their low price point. Others provide high durability and weight capacity for shipping heavy loads. Some, like softwood stringer pallets, work fine for short one-way trips, while others, like plastic and metal platforms, are more durable for continued use. Before choosing among pallet material types, supply chain managers should consider how that choice will impact their bottom line.
The cheapest pallet isn’t always the cheapest option, since inexpensive pallets often contribute to issues like product contamination and damaged or rejected loads, which will likely offset any savings on pallets. Overspending on pallets, on the other hand, wastes resources which might be better used elsewhere. Managers should weigh the pros and cons of each pallet type and consider alternatives to pallet ownership, like pooling, in order to find the most cost-efficient option.
The Pros and Cons of Popular Pallet Material Types
On an average day, around 2 billion pallets are in active use in the U.S. These pallets do everything from transporting produce to the local grocery store to sending urgently needed medicine overseas. To support those diverse needs, pallet manufacturers have begun experimenting with materials other than wood in order to improve pallet durability and reduce transportation costs. Pallet material types generally fall into one of five categories and all have their benefits and disadvantages.
The most common pallet material is wood, but that does not necessarily make it the ideal platform for all supply chains.
|Pallet Material Type||Pros||Cons|
|Softwood: Pine is the most common type of wood used in softwood pallets. Typically, this wood is used to create single-use stringer pallets, rather than sturdier block pallets.||Pine pallets are cheap and easy to source. They’re also light, which saves money on transportation costs and makes handling easier.||Nails, screws, and splinters often break free of wood pallets and damage loads or contaminate products. Wood pallets can also become infested with insects like termites and must meet special heat-treatment requirements for export. In addition, softwood is most often used to make flimsy
stringer pallets, which some retailers reject on sight. Softwood pallets generally break down quickly and can’t carry as much weight as their hardwood counterparts.
|Hardwood: Typically, oak, elm, ash, or maple serves as the base for these pallets.||Hardwood pallets have higher durability and strength than softwood pallets as the wood is denser, and this extends their lifespan. They’re less expensive than pallets made from alternative materials like metal and are relatively easy to source. Hardwood is often used to make block pallets, which are more durable and versatile than stringer pallets.||Hardwood pallets have most of the drawbacks of softwood pallets. Like pine platforms, the wood they are made of can absorb moisture, changing their weight and dimensions and making them undesirable for use with finely calibrated automated equipment. Finally, they are heavier than softwood pallets, which increases transportation costs and makes them more difficult to handle.|
|Paper: These pallets are also called ecopallets and are made of corrugated paper products.||Paper pallets are low cost and simple to produce. They are also designed to create little disposal waste, hence the word “eco” in their name. They are light and easy to maneuver, making them ideal for saving space and reducing transportation costs.||Paper pallets do not hold up well to moisture and can be damaged easily. They’re not as stiff as wood pallets, which limits their ability to protect products from damage. Of all the pallet types, their durability is the lowest. In many cases, they are designed for single or one-way use, which also reduces their cost-effectiveness.|
|Metal: These pallets are typically made of aluminum, carbon steel, or stainless steel.||Metal pallets are extremely durable and long-lasting. They’re not susceptible to insect infestation and are easy to clean, making them a hygienic choice. They are excellent for protecting products as their rigid structure resists damage.||Metal pallets are by far the most expensive pallets available, both at initial purchase and in the long term. As they’re heavy, they will increase transportation costs and wear and tear on machinery and will require more labor in handling. Aluminum pallets are lighter than steel ones, but will also cost more. Finally, metal pallets can’t be used in certain environments due to the fact that they conduct electricity and can be a safety hazard.|
|Plastic: High-density polyethylene (HDPE) and polyethylene terephthalate (PET) are popular plastic types for pallets.||High-quality plastic pallets are very durable and easy to clean. They can hold as much weight as wood, and, in many cases, much more. They don’t pose a risk of product damage from splinters or pallet hardware. Plastic pallets are about 30 percent lighter than wood block pallets, on average, so they reduce transportation costs and wear and tear on equipment. They’re also consistent in weight and dimensions, making them ideal for an automated environment.||It’s more complicated to create a plastic pallet than to build a wood one, so it’s not always easy to source plastic platforms in large quantities. Also, since plastic pallets aren’t made up of individual boards like wood pallets, they’re not as easy to repair if they become cracked or damaged, though plastic pallets can be recycled into “new” ones.|
The most common pallet material in use is wood, but that does not necessarily make it the ideal platform for all supply chains. Wood is the traditional option and can be useful in some industries, but most supply chain managers will find they benefit from switching to light, durable, reusable plastic pallets. For those renting wood block pallets from a pallet pooling company, switching to pooled plastic pallets is a logical next step.
Why Plastic Pallets Are Best for Pooling
Regardless of what pallet material type you choose, it’s always best to seek out pallets designed for reuse. Reusable pallets are more economical, as they don’t need to be constantly replaced or disposed of. They’re also more environmentally responsible and can aid companies in building a circular business model.
Most companies using reusable pallets do so with the help of a pallet pooling company. A pooling (or rental) service eliminates many of the costs associated with maintaining a pallet fleet and takes care of the logistical issues involved in tracking down pallets that have reached the end of the supply chain.
Plastic pallets don’t absorb moisture, and as a result, they’re easier to clean, maintain, and sort.
In many cases, wood block pallets are used in pooling, but wood platforms absorb moisture and are often a breeding ground for pests. When they’re used by several different companies, the risk of infestation and contamination increases. Splinters, broken boards, and loose nails–which are frequent occurrences for wood pallets–increase the likelihood of product damage and harm to employees and equipment.
Plastic is a far better material type for pooled pallets. Plastic pallets don’t absorb moisture, and as a result, they’re easier to clean, maintain, and sort. In addition, the non-porous surface is not appealing to pests, so there is little risk of insect infestation. Through plastic pallet pooling, supply chain managers enjoy the benefits of reduced product damage and lower transportation costs while eliminating the upfront investment of purchasing a fleet. Plastic pallet pooling is an excellent solution for any company that wishes to lower their Total Cost of Business (TCOB).
iGPS plastic pallets are made of durable high-density polyethylene (HDPE) that resists moisture, pests, and breakage. Our platforms are ideally suited for all types of transport, from basic local deliveries to automated environments and long-distance shipping. For more information on renting iGPS pallets, contact us at 1-800-884-0225, email a specialist at [email protected], or visit our contact page.