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Among the many notable supply chain disruptions of 2021, lumber was a major concern. Home construction, furniture manufacturers, and supply chain operators alike stood shocked as costs rose to $1500 per 1000 feet in May 2021—nearly doubling in price from December 2020. Despite a reduction in price July through November, today lumber is back at a high cost of $1300 per 1000 feet. Naturally this volatility has had a direct impact on the use of wooden pallets. These wood pallets, which had been central to supply chain optimization for years, have become a major expense.  However, to stabilize pricing and avoid unanticipated costs, companies have looked to a long-term smart packaging solution for 2022, and found it in reusable plastic pallets.

In contrast to their wooden counterparts, plastic pallets aren’t subject to the sort of wild price fluctuations in the lumber industry. The advantages of reusable plastic pallets go beyond price, and will affect the very future of global shipping in everything from environmental regulation to supply chain traceability. 

Greater Standardization with a Smart Packaging Choice, Reusable Plastic Pallets

Wooden pallets come in all sizes, even when they shouldn’t. Because wood pallets are break crack, chip or absorb water, pallets will vary in size and quality. Even those small variations can make a large impact on operations. 

The problem is getting worse. 39% of pallet users report worsening wood pallet quality—the highest percentage ever recorded by Modern Materials Handling’s Pallet Report. The survey also found record numbers of users reporting lower availability and higher prices for wooden pallets, meaning they’re paying more for a shrinking supply of lower-quality pallets. 

It doesn’t have to be this way. Reusable plastic pallets are are a smart packaging solution that were built to be used hundreds of times, making them an essential part of supply chain automation. Researchers at Virginia Tech found that plastic pallets have approximately 18 times the lifespan of wooden counterparts. That’s 18 times the cost savings thanks to greater pallet reuse. Each one can be used and reused without fear of splintering, breaking, or deterioration, which opens the door for better automations and optimizations across the supply chain. 

Cleaner and Safer Operations 

Wood chips left by broken wooden pallets is a major hygiene concern, especially in food environments. As a result, many regulators have banned the use of wooden pallets in food production environments.  

The fact that wooden pallets don’t create splinters makes operations safer for workers as well. Wooden pallets can rot, splinter, or crack, creating a dangerous situation for anyone handling them. They can also break under loads, creating unstable stacks of product that can be dangerous in warehouses and trucks.

Wooden pallets (seen in this image) end up in piles, unlike reusable plastic pallets, which last for years to come

These environmental and safety issues represent bottom-line expenses. They create slowdowns and bottlenecks,  waiting for inspections or having to replace unusable pallets that should have lasted years. By using reusable plastic pallets the risk of shipping contaminants is removed, and workers can handle their responsibilities with greater safety. 

Future-Proof with Supply Chain Traceability

Perhaps the most notable long-term solution offered by plastic pallets is in supply chain traceability. Shipping companies have long awaited supply chain IoT (Internet of Things) technology to catch up with the promise of greater efficiency and better tracking. 

These innovations had been delayed by the widespread use of wooden pallets. Supply chain RFID technology allows for automated pallet tracking, but the high turnover of wooden pallets made the technology prohibitively expensive. 

Fortunately, this is not so with reusable plastic pallets. Thanks to their improved lifespan—up to 10 years, compared to three-to-five years for wood—plastic pallets make a natural partner for Supply Chain IoT. Companies see a greater return-on-investment, gaining the power of supply chain traceability and data-driven efficiency by pairing plastic pallets with innovative technologies like RFID. 

The Future is Reusable Plastic Pallets 

Even as the price of wood returns to pre-pandemic levels, the last few years have shown how quickly things can change. Creating better, longer-lasting digital supply chain solutions is necessary to stay ahead of uncertainty and solidify a competitive advantage. 

Pictured here, Tosca plastic pallets are a smart packaging choice

Let us help. Every day we work hard to bring better solutions and more digital supply chain technology that builds stability and sustainability to supply chains. Our reusable plastic pallet pooling experts can help you find the right solution for your supply chain needs. Connect with us today to learn how more effective supply chains can fundamentally transform your business for the better.