Wooden pallet being dismantled
The cheapest pallets are made of softwood and are often considered expendable, to be discarded as trash along with other wrapping elements, at the end of the trip. These pallets are simple stringer pallets, and liftable from two sides.
Slightly more complex hardwood block pallets, plastic pallets and metal pallets can be lifted from all four sides. These costlier pallets usually require a deposit and are returned to the sender or resold as used. Many “four way” pallets are color-coded according to the loads they can bear, and other attributes. Wood pallets can pose serious bio-hazard risks as they are susceptible to bacterial and chemical contamination, such as E. coli problems in food and produce transportation, and even insect infestation, and thus the need for ISPM 15.
Wooden pallet construction specifications can depend on the pallet’s intended use: general, FDA, storage, chemical, export; the expected load weight; type of wood desired: recycled, hard, soft, kiln dried or combo (new & recycle); and even the type of fasteners desired to hold the pallet together: staples or nails.
Paper pallets, also referred to as “ecopallets”, are often used for light loads, but engineered paper pallets are increasingly used for loads that compare with wood. Paper pallets are also used where recycling and easy disposal is important. New designs of ecopallets have been made from just two flat pieces of corrugated board (no glue/staples) and weigh just 4.5 kg (9.9 lb), offering dramatic freight savings. Ecopallets are also ISPM 15 exempt, negating fumigation and barrier “slip” sheets. They are cleaner, safer, and provide a cost-saving eco-friendly alternative to other pallet materials. Some engineered Corrugated pallets offer a significant reduced height, providing substantial freight cost reduction. Low profile hand pallet trucks allow picking up pallets as low as 25 mm.
Steel pallets are strong and are used for heavy loads, high-stacking loads, long term dry storage, and loads moved by abusive logistic systems. They are often used for military ammunition. Metal pallets make up less than 1% of the market. Materials include carbon steel, stainless steel, and aluminum. Of these, carbon steel offers excellent durability at the lowest cost. Stainless steel doesn’t require a paint coating, and is preferred for such applications as clean room environments. Carbon steel units are expensive compared to wood, and stainless and aluminum cost about 2–3 times that of carbon steel. Long term costs, however, can be lower than wood. General advantages of metal pallets are high strength and stiffness, excellent durability, bug free, no splinters, sanitary, and recyclable. Disadvantages include a higher initial price, significant weight, low friction, and susceptibility to rusting (carbon steel). Metal is primarily used in captive or closed loop environments where durability and product protection are key performance requirements. Metal units today are increasingly price competitive and lighter in weight. Primary industries that use metal pallets include automotive, pharmaceutical, lawn tractors, motorcycles, and tires.
Aluminum pallets are stronger than wood or plastic, lighter than steel, and resist weather, rotting, plastic creep and corrosion. They are sometimes used for air-freight, long-term outdoor or at-sea storage, or military transport.