Plastic Pallets Topping Continue to Top Alternative Materials List
28 Apr 2015
In the pallet world, wood remains the dominant material. It strong, cheap and mostly safe, accounting for over 95% of pallets in use worldwide. Once a wooden pallet comes to the end of its useful lifetime, the wood can be recycled to make cheap furniture or other items.
But there are drawbacks too. Wooden parts have to be nailed together to make the pallet, so there is always a danger of nails protruding or the wood splintering. Although the wood is heat-treated, a pallet that has seen a lot of use can become home to a great variety of insects, bacteria and numerous toxins.
So what are the alternatives to wood? Often the pallet material depends on its use. Food and pharmaceuticals need more hygienic storage and transportation than bags of cement do. So the strength or weakness of any given pallet material depends on its application.
Plastic Pushing Ahead
Plastic is becoming a common pallet material and commands between 5% and 11% of some pallet markets, depending on country or region. Industry studies have estimated that as many as 37% of all pallet users employ plastic units to some degree. According to estimates from the Freedonia Group, a market research firm, plastic pallet demand is expected to rise steadily through to 2017.
The real advantages of plastic pallets are that they are resistant to most moulds and pests, there are no protruding nails and the plastic rarely if ever splinters. In addition to the food and pharmaceutical industries, electronics manufacturers opt for plastic pallets, as these are unlikely to damage the goods they transport.
But the downside to plastic is that they come with a slightly higher price tag, making them a more expensive option for a simple one-way shipment.
The use of corrugated-paper pallets is also on the rise and may account for over 11% of some pallet markets. The advantage of paper is that it is lightweight – up to 90% lighter than wood. This makes than easier to handle and cuts shipping costs. Swedish furniture maker IKEA is one of the most high-profile companies to use only paper pallets for shipping its goods.
But the real problem is that paper pallets have a very short working life, cannot handle a heavy load and, most importantly, are not moisture-proof.
Metal is the upcoming material for pallets – in particular, various combinations of steel and aluminium. So far, only 0.8% of the pallet market uses metal, but demand is expected to rise much faster than for plastics or other materials, says the Freedonia Group.
Aluminium and steel pallets are durable, strong and easily leaned. The downside is that steel in particular can be very heavy, but strength in weight is vital when transporting heavy articles such as machinery and military equipment. A metal pallet can transport hazardous materials and hold up to several thousand kilograms of load without bending or breaking.
Despite the advantage of metal, paper or plastic, wood is likely to retain its lead in the pallet market, as all the other materials still cannot command a market share worldwide greater than 5%. Wood remains the best value for money. However it is important for businesses to note the ongoing growth of plastic pallets, whose market share continues to rise.