The Key Differences between Plastic and Wooden Pallets
12 May 2017
The debate over plastic and wooden pallets and which type is best for transporting particular goods shows no sign of abating. So let’s look at the key differences between plastic and wooden pallets. We’ve boiled the argument down to two proposals: that plastic is greener than wood, and that plastic is healthier than wood. Let’s see how each type of pallet shapes up.
Plastic Pallets Are Greener
Or are they? People have held up plastic as the more environmentally friendly choice for several reasons. The pallets are lighter, so they save on fuel when being transported. They last longer, so can be re-used. Because they can be cleaned and disinfected (see the section on health below), they are also easier to re-use.
A plastic crate, unlike a wooden one, doesn’t use up trees, resulting in deforestation. And at first sight, it looks renewable. But it’s an oil-based product, so how green is it really? Then you need to weigh up the fact that many manufacturers of wooden pallets only use wood which has an environmental sustainability certificate. And actually, wooden pallets are often made from offcuts of timber left over after making higher-grade products, such as furniture.
Also, as a natural product, wood can be recycled, so damaged wooden pallets are often broken up and the good parts used to produce new pallets. Some surveys estimate the number of recycled wooden pallets at about 70% of the total in use. All kinds of uses are found for them – and if they do end up in landfill, they will biodegrade, unlike plastic.
Bits of pallets that can’t be used to remake new ones are often made into fuel chips, so a wooden pallet has an incredibly low waste rate.
In summary then, wooden pallets may win the environmental competition, except for their devastating tendency to help pests migrate from one country to another – read on to see how.
Plastic Pallets Are Healthier
Because wood is a natural substance, natural things tend to make their home in it. And that includes bugs, pests and spores that may have a negative impact in many countries and may even lead to disasters such as crop failures and tree disease. The Asian Long-Horned Beetle, native to China and Korea, may have made its way to North America in wooden pallets. When it got there, it ravaged the native hardwood trees. Plastic doesn’t harbour these kinds of pests.
Furthermore, we now have a global food economy, and both raw and manufactured foods are constantly being moved around the world. A plastic pallet is far more hygienic than a wood one for this use. They don’t harbour pathogens such as listeria, e. coli or salmonella, or bugs that could get into the food and lay eggs or excrete on the food.
And between uses, pallets made of plastic can be cleaned and disinfected to ensure that they aren’t home to anything harmful. To clean wooden pallets, you have to treat them with heat or fumigate them. Because wood is porous, this can create ideal conditions for moulds to grow.
So wooden pallets are not as environmentally wasteful as you might think. But when it comes to the transportation of food, plastic pallets win hands down.