A comparison between wooden and plastic pallets
With millions of pallets being shipped across the world at any point in time, a conflict of opinion has broken out between manufacturers, distributors, and environmental and food safety groups. While the PR agencies sharpen their pens, let’s take a balanced look at the advantages and disadvantages of wooden and plastic pallets.
Wooden pallets are considerably cheaper than plastic pallets at point of sale. There’s also the fact that one broken piece of wood can be easily replaced, reducing the cost and waste involved in disposing of an entire pallet and purchasing a new one.
However, where wood wins in the initial outlay, plastic wins in on-going expenses. Plastic pallets are roughly 30% lighter than wooden pallets, reducing shipping costs, and this may eventually add up to more savings for those who ship long distance. They also last longer.
2. Environmental stakes
Responsibly sourced wooden pallets can be made from recycled materials and sustainable forests and can be recycled into paper when their life is over. However, plastic is also 100% recyclable and creates less waste due to its 10-year lifespan.
Concerns do exist over the environmental impact of flame retardants used to protect plastic pallets, as well as the polythenes used in pallet covers. Find out more about the importance of sustainable pallet covers.
3. Food safety
This will be familiar to anybody who remembers the controversy surrounding wooden vs. plastic chopping boards. In January 2015, plastic pallet distributor IGPS released results of independent scientific tests that showed traces of E. coli, salmonella, and listeria growing on wooden pallets. The problem isn’t so much with the bacteria themselves, but with the porous nature of the wood making it impossible to wipe the bacteria away.
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When properly cleaned and maintained, plastic is more hygienic than wood. It is worth noting, however, that certain woods boast natural antimicrobial chemicals. Plastic is missing this and can end up hosting bacteria in nicks and scratches, without the organic means to eradicate them.
Plastic scores a lot of wins here. It’s simply tougher than wood, and plastic pallets are made as a cohesive unit. This allows them to withstand rough handling and shipping, extreme climate conditions, and insects such as termites. Unfortunately, the biggest argument against wood comes from water, which leads wooden pallets to rot and fall apart.
5. Shipping speeds
There are numerous regulations surrounding the international shipping of pallets, and timber is susceptible to these. Plastic pallets easily exceed all regulations meaning you don’t need to keep abreast of the hundreds of ever-changing international shipping regulations.
6. Safety of goods
Until somebody can produce a high-friction plastic pallet, this will remain one of wood’s strong points. It’s impossible to be in control of how your goods are handled during shipping, and conditions such as rough roads or seas can see your products scattered or broken. Wooden pallets have a natural friction that adds an extra layer of stability for your goods. If your chief concern is ensuring your goods get to their destination in one piece, wood is the clear winner.
To help secure your stock in both plastic and wooden pallets, invest in strong, reliable pallet cover protection.
In spite of what the industries will tell you, there are clear advantages and disadvantages to both plastic and wooden pallets, as well as some arguments that leave them evenly matched. The best bet is to weigh your needs against these pros and cons and come to your own conclusion.