When you think of a shipping pallet, does the below image come to mind (wood on wood on wood)? While pallets are traditionally wood-manufactured, plastic pallets have become more prevalent in recent years as companies shipping often and in high volumes realize the advantages of this alternative. However, 90-95% of shippers still opt for the old-fashioned version (source).The truth is that each type of pallet has its own set of pros and cons and, at the end of the day, your decision will come down to more than just cost, durability or safety alone – a host of factors need to be weighed, and we'll take a look at these considerations below.
The classic option for many years, wood pallets remain the most common pallets used for domestic and international shipping alike. Their main advantages are low cost and ease of repair; primary disadvantages include porous surface susceptible to unwanted critters and fungus, as well as safety hazards from splintering wood and loose or rusted nails. Here is a more comprehensive list of the pros and cons of wooden pallets:
- Easy to recycle because made from natural resources
- Better for the environment
- Simple to repair – and construct – yourself
- Products slide and shift less than on plastic
- Can hold more weight than plastic
- Break and splinter easily (safety hazard)
- Less durable than plastic (but can be repaired easily)
- Porous surface prone to bug infestations or fungus
- Absorb moisture and warp easily, so must be stored in cool, dry place
- Must be heat-treated before shipment to certain countries
- Challenging to clean properly
Your first discovery when comparing pallet options will be that the cost of plastic pallets is drastically – up to 3x – higher than wood pallets. This is the primary reason wood remains the favored option among shippers worldwide. Cost aside, plastic pallets boast several benefits, including greater durability and lifespan, weather resistance and bug resistance. But will these benefits outweigh the higher cost? This all depends on the nature of your supply chain. Here are the pros and cons of plastic:
- Durable and long-lasting, which is cost-effective long-term
- No need to heat treat pre-shipment since bug-proof
- Weigh less than wood pallets (can reduce shipping costs)
- Smooth material is safer to handle
- Weather-resistant / easy to store and clean
- Recyclable (although less environmentally friendly than wooden pallets)
- Up-front costs are high (3x cost of wooden pallets)
- Must be replaced when broken (difficult to repair)
- Smooth surface means good slide or shift more easily than on wood
- Can bear less weight than wooden pallets
- Less eco-friendly since comprised of manmade materials
To summarize this information and view the data side-by-side, here's a useful chart courtesy of Olympic, a pallet supplier and management company.
When choosing between wood and plastic pallets, consider all the factors above. Although the cost is greater, plastic might make sense if you're operating a closed-loop supply chain and the pallets will be returned and reused over and over again.
If your product is very heavy, wooden pallets are the right choice since they are better load-bearers than their plastic counterparts. If you've had issues with treating wooden pallets for international shipments in the past, it may be worth the peace of mind to go for plastic instead.
This decision is industry- and company-specific, so make the right choice based on your individual circumstances.
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