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Plastic pallets 101: How to choose the perfect load carriers for your supply chain 

Pallets are the backbone of the supply chain. Traditionally they have been made from wood (and by traditionally, we mean that wood pallets have been part of supply chains since the 1920s!), but industry leaders are now switching to more modern, plastic pallet alternatives.  

If you are considering making a switch to plastic pallets, let us assure you that this is a decision that doesn’t need to keep you up at night.  While it may sound daunting to mess with such a critical part of your supply chain operations, we are here to help make that decision easier and answer questions you may have. 

Below are some of the most frequently asked questions posed by businesses seeking a better alternative to wooden pallets. 

In this article:  

What are the benefits of plastic pallets? 

In a nutshell, plastic pallet benefits include: 

  • More robust and last far longer than wood pallets 
  • Standard and uniform in dimensions and weight, causing less disruption to automated processes 
  • More hygienic and safer in sterilized environments as they are resistant to moisture, fungi, and mold. 
  • Do not shed wood chips or nails which need sweeping up 
  • Do not have splinters or fasteners which damage loads 
  • Do not have to be heat treated to pass border inspections. Plastic pallets are excluded from ISPM 15 requirements..

If you are considering making a switch to plastic pallets, let us assure you that this is a decision that doesn’t need to keep you up at night.  While it may sound daunting to mess with such a critical part of your supply chain operations, we are here to help make that decision easier and answer questions you  

Below are some of the most frequently asked questions posed by businesses seeking a better alternative to wooden pallets. 

plastic pallets

What are plastic pallets? 

Though it may seem like it, this is not such a simple question. Naturally, any pallet made of plastic is considered a “plastic pallet”. However, in addition to the standard plastic pallets that are comparable to standard wood pallets, there are many other plastic pallet products.  

Plastic pallet varieties include: 

  • Nestable and rackable plastic pallets, 
  • HDPE pallets (pallets that specialize in carrying heavy-duty loads), 
  • Recyclable pallets 
  • Pallets made from recycled materials, 
  • Half and quarter size pallets that are designed to move and support merchandise displays in stores. 

Single-use plastic pallets also exist in the market, however, it is likely you will set those aside from your decision-making process. Single-use ANYTHING is not nearly as sustainable or as durable as it needs to be in order to serve as a beneficial option in the modern supply chain or justify any so-called benefits.  

Are plastic pallets clean? 

Yes. In fact, use of plastic pallets is a strict requirement in most sterilized food and beverage, pharmaceutical and medicine, and cosmetics production environments. This is mostly because plastic pallets are non-porous and resistant to moisture, insects, fungi, acids, fats, solvents, and odor. As an inorganic, impermeable material, plastic does not absorb liquid, nor does it offer a hospitable environment for bacteria or other living things to grow.  

Even more critically, plastic pallets can be washed between uses. Within a strong pooling program, plastic pallets will be cleaned and inspected before reentering the supply chain. 

Are plastic pallets better than wood pallets?

Plastic pallets have many advantages over wooden pallets.  

1. Better Hygiene 

They are more hygienic and easier to clean, which is essential in the food and beverage industry. There are food-grade and REACH compliant options available. They do not absorb liquids and do not need to be heat treated to meet ISPM 15 requirements. 

2. More Uniform 

They are more uniform in size and weight, work better in automated processes than wood, and are easier to transport and handle. 

3. More Resistant to Damage 

Plastic pallets are more robust and resistant to damage from handling and pests, which increases their longevity and reduces the need for replacement. They last a lot longer than wooden pallets and do not shed splinters or nails, meaning cleaner and safer working environments, and less damage to the loads they carry. 

4. More Sustainable 

Pooled plastic pallets can be a more sustainable and environmentally friendly alternative to wooden pallets, mostly because they can perform far more rotations over their service life without the need for frequent repairs.  

100% of the material used to manufacture the pallets can be recycled again at the end of their useful life and made into new assets, reducing waste and pollution.  

Breakthroughs in plastic pallet design, such as the development of nestable pallets, means more empty pallets can be stacked whilst being transported, resulting in lower transport emissions. A win, win for the planet! 

Overall, plastic pallets are a superior choice for many applications in the supply chain, and their use is growing rapidly worldwide. Companies are starting to recognize the benefits of plastic pallets and are increasingly adopting them in their operations. The shift towards plastic pallets is a positive development for logistics and manufacturing sectors, and will help to improve efficiency, safety, and sustainability.  

What are plastic pallets made from?  

There are two main materials used in the production of reusable plastic pallets, high-density virgin polypropylene (HDPE) and virgin Polypropylene (PE). 

PE is a more rigid material and as a result, holds heavier loads. HDPE offers improved impact and corrosion resistance and adds extra strength. 

Once melted, the HDPE or PE is injected under high pressure into a mold and secured in place with clamps. Once cooled, the pallet is now crack resistant, tough, and ready to be used. 

Of course, besides the traditional virgin materials used to create plastic pallets, the steady movement of progress has lead supply chain leaders to develop alternatives that make use of recycled materials. For example, these sturdy plastics can also be combined with recycled materials to create a more sustainable option, taking the benefits of virgin plastic and combining them with stronger environmental credentials. The recycled material going into these eco pallets includes plastic pallets which have reached the end of their service life. Additionally, other pallets are in the process of development that will make use of discarded consumer materials to make up the solid base of plastic pallets. (We will have some very exciting news about this soon! Stay tuned to hear what Tosca is doing in this space.) 

Are plastic pallets heavy-duty enough to handle my supply chain? 

Whether you are in the looking for 1200x1000mm Industrial size pallets that are heavy-duty enough to remain strong under heavy loads in a warehouse for some time or 1200x800mm Euro-size pallets that are simply strong enough to move smaller loads over distances and for short periods of time, there are many heavy-duty options available. 

The fact is, in nearly every case, plastic pallets are more stable, more robust, and less prone to damage than wooden alternatives. Plastic materials are impermeable to water, so pallets made with plastic do not weaken or increase in weight when exposed to liquids. Plastic pallets are also not made up of fibers like wood, so they do not split and crack under pressure along the same fault lines. In the case of the most heavy-duty pallets, metal reinforcements add to the strength of the pallets. 

In other words, no matter the load type in question – static load, maximum dynamic load, or rack loads – there is a plastic pallet type designed to suit your specific needs.  

Are plastic pallets recyclable? 

Plastic pallets are fully recyclable at the end of their service life into new pallets or other reusable assets. At Tosca, pallets which can no longer be repaired and do not meet our strict quality standards are recycled into new ones and enter the Tosca pool to start their new journey. This is done by grinding up the unusable pallets into pellets and then reforming the pellets into new products. 

plastic pallet recyclable pellets by products

What kinds of companies are using plastic pallets and why? 

Major leaders in many supply chains are finding plastic pallets to be a cost-effective and durable alternative to the classic wood pallet. 

Plastic pallets are especially popular within food supply chains because they are washable and eliminate the risk of contaminating food with dust or wood chips. In many cases, regulations are in place restricting the use of wood pallets in certain environments, and rightfully so. 

Our clients include growers, processors, manufacturers, distributors and retailers. The entire supply chain of food and non-food production, distribution, and sale can take advantage of the benefits of reusable plastic pallets

How much do plastic pallets cost? 

Pricing depends on several factors. Which pallet is the most suitable, how a pallet will be used in the supply chain, whether it is pooled, purchased, or rented, how long it will remain under load and how many rotations it will go through during a year are some of the factors that will determine the total cost of using plastic pallets in your supply chain. The most cost-effective option will come as part of a well-managed pooling solution.  

The cost of the actual pallet itself is one component, but a complete pallet solution encompasses much more. Itincludes delivery of the pallets to your chosen location, collection after use, washing of the assets, repairs where necessary, the account management that goes into the operation of the pool of reusable plastic pallets and the proprietary software that drives these activities. By working with an expert pooling company like Tosca, the expertise and efficiency of everything is all but guaranteed to lower the cost of pallets in your supply chain, and in many cases, lower the cost of your supply chain overall. 

The calculations may seem complex, but the right experts ill help you find the best possible solution and service level based on yourrequirement. 

Is now a good time to switch from wood pallets to plastic pallets? 

Now is the perfect time to make the switch. The price differential between wooden and plastic pallets is narrowing. Wood price volatility and nail shortages are driving wooden pallet prices higher, and this is set to continue into 2023 and beyond. Coupled with wooden pallet supply and availability issues in key regions, it’s one supply chain problem that can easily be avoided by switching to reusable plastic pallets, especially when used as part of a well-managed pooling program.  

With pooled plastic pallets, capital expenditure is less, financial and operational planning becomes easier, and pallets arrive where they need to be, on time. Availability will no longer be a problem. 

Not only that but plastic pallets work just as well, if not better, with your existing automated material handling systems and processes. Given that plastic pallets are molded, their sizes and weights are consistent. There’s no need to change machinery or the way you work. The changeover is seamless. 

With so many options, there’s always one that best suits your needs whether you’re looking for an ISPM-I5 proof food-grade plastic pallet, or an industrial-sized, heavy-duty pallet with a 5-tonne static load capacity.  

Next steps for making the switch to reusable plastic pallets 

Plastic pallets are a clear next step for your supply chain. Not only do they on their own hold up several benefits that far outweigh wood, but the industry is moving in the direction of plastic pallets, leaving slow movers behind. FDA guidance, heat-treating regulations at borders, sanitation rules, and more are all forcing the market in the direction of sustainable plastic pallet alternatives. In other words, the question of whether to switch to plastic pallets is not if, but when.  

By working with an expert in the pooled plastic pallet industry like Tosca, you can ease this transition and ensure that all stakeholders in this decision are happy with the switch. Our robust product portfolio, unmatched customer service, and strong network of service centers world-wide make this transition as seamless as possible. All that is left is to contact Tosca today to discuss our no-commitment pilot program and learn which pallets would be best for your specific needs.