Pros and cons of wooden and plastic pallets

Pallets are an important part of the materials handling industry and are used by many businesses to transport goods, stock items and keep their equipment safe. While wooden pallets used to be the norm, in recent years plastic pallets have also gained popularity. While both wood and plastic pallets have their advantages and disadvantages, the type of pallet to be used depends on the industry as well as factors such as cost, hygiene, environmental impact and ease of handling.

Plastic pallets are often preferred by industries that operate in closed-loop warehouse environments such as pharmaceutical, automotive, dairy and beverage industries. With a longer shelf life of about ten years, these pallets are not only reusable but also make great in-house storage solutions.

If damaged, wood pallets can be easily repaired and recycled. Many pallet suppliers offer recycled pallets or second hand pallets as a cost effective alternative for those on a budget. However, if a plastic pallet cracks or breaks repairs cannot be done as easily since the material needs to be melted down and remoulded.

Wooden pallets can be difficult to clean and can harbour bacterial and fungal growth if they become wet. Plastic pallets on the other hand are virtually maintenance free, can be hot washed, steam cleaned or chemically sterilised and keep products well ventilated and protected from chemicals and bacteria. This makes them a better choice for transporting fresh foods, pharmaceutical goods or any products that require hygienic conditions.

Wooden pallets can also get held up in quarantine when exporting goods, causing delays in delivery. When using wooden pallets as export pallets they must adhere to the ISPM15 (International Standards for Phytosanitary Measures Publication No 15), which is the guideline for regulating wooden packaging in international trade. This requires that all wooden packaging material is debarked, heat treated or fumigated and branded with the ISPM15 mark of compliance.

Plastic pallets do not require any such checks which often makes delivery quicker and easier. They are lighter than wooden pallets, saving on freight costs and making it safer and easier for manoeuvring. Splinters, protruding nails, shrinking and damaged boards are also issues that handlers face with wooden pallets, which are not present in plastic pallets.

The weight of the products to be shipped should be considered when choosing which type of pallet is more suitable. Plastic pallets are most suited to shipments which weigh less than 1,500 pounds while wooden pallets are best for heavier shipments.

When considering a pallet type that is best suited to your warehouse needs you should compare the pros and cons of both wooden and plastic pallets. Wooden pallets come in options of remanufactured, recycled, reclaimed, second hand and new wooden pallets and may be especially convenient if hygiene and ventilation are not important to your product. A consultation with a professional pallet manufacturer and seller which includes consideration of cost, lifespan and your specific warehouse needs will help you decide which pallet best meets your requirements.