Ultimate Guide To: Environmentally Friendly Recycled Plastic Pallets
21 Aug 2019
There is now more awareness around the environment and climate than perhaps any other point in recent history.
It’s important that businesses do their bit to reduce their impact on the environment.
If you currently use wooden pallets you may think they’re the best option.
Due to horror stories of floating plastic islands and the like you may think that plastic pallets are bad for the environment.
However you would actually be quite mistaken.
Plastic pallets as you’ll discover in the following are actually the best option for transporting goods.
They have a much longer lifespan than wooden pallets and are also infinitely recyclable.
This means they have a much smaller carbon footprint.
Stay with us as we delve into all aspects of plastic pallets and how they are recyclable.
Delve into the following to learn all about recyclable plastic pallets
Chapter 1: How Are Plastic Pallets Made?
The different manufacturing processes used to create different types of plastic pallets.
You might be surprised that there are actually quite a few methods for manufacturing plastic pallets.
They all work slightly different and will produce different types of plastic pallets.
The main plastic pallet manufacturing methods are:
- Injection Moulding Plastic Pallet
- Thermoforming Plastic Pallets
- Blow Moulding Plastic Pallets
- Profile Extrusion
- Compression Moulding
- Rotational Moulding
Let’s look at each of these methods in a bit more detail.
First up is:
Injection moulding is one of the most common and popular methods for producing plastic pallets.
It is suitable for large scale production. Especially if there is a large run of one type of pallet.
Injection moulding takes place when raw plastic material is fed into a machine through a hopper.
Heater bands along with frictional force then melts this plastic material into a hot plastic liquid.
This hot liquid plastic is then syphoned into the required form (e.g. a plastic pallet) where it will cool and harden.
Once cooled and harden you have your plastic pallet.
Other versions of injection moulding include:
- Low pressure structural foam moulding
- High pressure injection moulding
Thermoforming plastic pallets
Thermoforming is another manufacturing process for plastic products.
In thermoforming plastic is heated to a pliable temperature where it can be manipulated into a form but without being liquid.
It is then placed over a mould and the air between the plastic sheet and mould is evacuated. Causing the plastic sheet to form around the mould.
It is then allowed to cool and harden allowing it to be separated from the mould.
Other versions of thermoforming include:
- Vacuum thermoforming
- Pressure thermoforming
Blow moulding plastic pallets
Blow moulding consists of melting a plastic material and placing it in a parison, a hollow body used to create a form in blow moulding.
The parison is then clamped into a mould and air blown in. The plastic then takes the shape of the mould.
Finally, like other methods it is left to cool and harden.
The profile extrusion method is when plastic is melted and forced through an extruder. The different parts or shapes are then fastened together using heat or welds.
Compression moulding consists of placing plastic material in a mould of your desired object.
The mould is then heated and a predetermined amount of pressure is applied to form the plastic to the mould.
The pressure is maintained until the plastic has cured into the desired shape.
This is a slower process compared to injection moulding.
Rotational moulding is when plastic material is ground into small pieces known as powder granules.
They are then loaded into a mould, sealed, heated and rotated on two perpendicular axis which forces the powder into each bit of the mould.
The mould then cools and the plastic is ejected in the correct form.
The main types of materials/ types of plastic used to manufacture plastic pallets
There are two main types of plastic which is used in the manufacturing of plastic pallets.
However each of these comes in a new or virgin state and a recycled state too.
The two types of plastic are:
- High Density Polyethylene
Confirm that different styles of plastic pallets can all be recycled together!
Whilst there are different plastics used in the manufacture of plastic pallets, typically they can be recycled together.
To recycle plastic pallets you need to first crush and shred the pallets.
Doing this creates plastic pellets.
You can then use these plastic pellets to make new pallets or other items by melting them down and following any of the above manufacturing methods.
Chapter 2: What is High Density Polyethylene (HDPE)?
We very briefly touched upon the plastics used to make plastic pallets.
- High density polyethylene
But wait, what exactly is High Density Polyethylene or HDPE for short.
HDPE is a thermoplastic polymer which is produced from the monomer ethylene.
One of the things that sets it apart and makes it such a commonly used material for all sorts, not just plastic pallets is it high strength to density ratio.
HDPE is used in the production of plastic pallets but also more every day house hold goods, such as plastic bottles!
It is also used for corrosion resistant piping and geomembranes.
It can be commonly recycled and has the identification mark of “2”.
It is estimated that the global HDPE market reached a volume of 30 million tons.
HDPE density can range from 930 to 970 kg/m3 and has little branching which creates strong intermolecular forces and tensile strength.
It is also resistant to many solvents, which is why it’s such a useful manufacturing material.
Its physical properties can also differ depending on which manufacturing method is used.
Here is a relatively comprehensive list of all the different sorts of items HDPE can be used to create:
- 3D printer filament
- Arena board (puck board)
- Backpacking frames
- Ballistic plates
- Bottle caps
- Chemical-resistant piping
- Coax cable inner insulator
- Conduit protector for electrical or communications cables
- Corrosion protection for steel pipelines
- Electrical and plumbing boxes
- Far-IR lenses
- Folding chairs and tables
- Food storage containers
- Fuel tanks for vehicles
- Geomembrane for hydraulic applications (such as canals and bank reinforcements) and chemical containment
- Geothermal heat transfer piping systems
- Heat-resistant firework mortars
- Housewrap (Tyvek)
- Laundry Detergent Jugs
- Lasts for shoes
- Microwave telescope windows
- Milk Jugs
- Natural gas distribution pipe systems
- Piping for fluid, slurry and gas purposes
- Plastic bags
- Plastic bottles suitable both for recycling (such as milk jugs)
- Plastic lumber
- Plastic surgery (skeletal and facial reconstruction)
- Potable water mains
- Root barrier
- Shampoo Bottles
- Sewage mains
- Snowboard rails and boxes
- Stone paper
- Storage sheds
- Swimming pool installation
- Trackout Control Mats
- Telecom ducts
- Water pipes for domestic water supply and agricultural processes
- Wood plastic composites (utilising recycled polymers)
Chapter 3: HDPE, LDPE & Polypropylene: What’s The Difference?
So we now know what HDPE is and why it’s such a useful plastic material.
However how does HDPE compared to LDPE (Low Density Polyethylene) and Polypropylene.
LDPE vs HDPE
LDPE is much softer than HDPE which ultimately means its also more flexible.
Furthermore LDPE melts at a lower temperature than HDPE and is used in the manufacturer of sandwich bags and other similar type packaging.
Whereas HDPE is much harder and has a higher chemical resistance.
This means it can withstand a number of solvents which makes it an ideal container material.
HDPE can also withstand much higher temperatures.
HDPE vs PP
HDPE as we’ve covered previous is very strong and will hold its shape even under relatively heavy loads.
This makes it ideal for use in containers and plastic pallets. It’s also resistant to mould, mildew and corrosion.
HDPE can also be moulded into almost any shape whilst maintaining its lightweight. A perfect quality for a material used in the manufacturer of containers.
Polypropylene or PP for short has a semi crystalline structure and can be easily shaped and formed.
It has a low melt viscosity and is ideal for injection moulding. However this is it’s only use, unlike HDPE.
Polypropylene can be found in many products from ropes to carpets to clothing. It’s an affordable commercial material and also has a strong chemical resistance against bases and acids.
It is also resistant to heavy duty cleaners.
Chapter 4: How Are Recycled Pallets Made?
As we’ve touched upon one of the key properties of HDPE plastic pallets is that they can be recycled.
So not only do plastic pallets have a much longer lifespan than traditional wooden pallets. But once they reach the end of their life they can then be easily recycled into either new plastic pallets or other products.
Recycling plastic pallets is actually relatively straight forward – or at least easier than you might think.
First unfit for use plastic pallets are crushed and shredded.
This breaks down the plastic into small pellets.
These small plastic pellets can then be used to make new products or pallets through the above processes.
Whereby the pellets are melted down, liquified and pressured into specific forms using various moulds.
Chapter 5: How Environmentally Friendly Are Recycled Pallets?
It’s obvious that any item that can be recycled is better for the environment than one that can’t be.
However, why specifically is a recyclable plastic pallet better for the environment?
One of the primary reasons why recycled plastic pallets are so good is that their raw materials are used over and over again.
This obviously reduces its impact on the environment massively. Whereas wooden pallets need more trees to be chopped down to create more.
But with plastic pallets, the raw plastic material and be directly converted into a new pallet.
Importantly plastic pallets can be recycled in this fashion without any loss in durability and with minimal processing.
Ultimately recycling plastic pallets results in a greatly reduced carbon footprint which limits their effect on climate change and the environment.
By switching over to plastic pallets you can also help to decrease deforestation which occurs for some wooden pallets. Furthermore plastic pallets are exempt from ISPM 15 and don’t need to be either heat or chemically treated. So can help prevent invasive pests without using more resources or energy.
As well as benefiting the environment, recyclable plastic pallets can also benefit businesses.
By purchasing recycled plastic pallets organisations can actually make a cost saving without much downside. Recycled plastic pallets are usually cheaper than buying brand new but are largely just as strong as new pallets.
Plastic pallets are also leagues ahead of wooden pallets in terms of workplace as there are no sharp edges or nails which could cause injury to workers.
Plastic pallets also lend themselves nicely to creating custom jobs with unique sizes and shapes.
They also help businesses fulfil their commitment and requirement in limiting their impact on the environment and climate.
Chapter 6: Conclusion
So there we have it.
Everything you need to know about plastic pallets and recycling.
We’ve discussed how plastic pallets are manufactured. Looking at the main manufacturing methods and some less common ones.
We examined and analysed the types of plastic commonly used in their manufacture and what makes it a good material for this use.
Finally we have also looked at how plastic pallets can be recycled and why this is a benefit for both the environment and businesses alike.
Please check back for more updates!
Thanks for reading.