Wood vs Plastic Shipping Pallets

Shipping pallets are used in virtually all industries where products are physically transported.  No matter what mode of transportation is...

woman operating fork lift with pallets

Shipping pallets are used in virtually all industries where products are physically transported.  No matter what mode of transportation is used – trucking, freight trains, ships, or air carriers – pallets carry the load. According to the NWPCA, in the United States alone, more than 1.9 billion shipping pallets are used each year. The vast majority of these (about 95%) are made of wood. The rest are made of plastic (2%), wood composite (2%) or cardboard/corrugated (less than 1%).

So, why are wooden pallets so popular?  Wood pallets are less expensive to manufacture and they can typically carry more weight (1,500 to 3,000 pounds as opposed to plastic pallets which can bear up to 1,500 pounds).  And, oftentimes, if a wooden pallet breaks, it can be repaired or recycled.  But, since they’re made of natural resources, wooden pallets are susceptible to mold, rot, and insect infestation.  Furthermore, wood can splinter and the nails holding the platform together can rust or bend, making it less smooth and safe than its plastic counterpart. Overall, however, wood pallets are a good choice for companies shipping heavy loads or for those that frequently ship one-way or overseas (Note: wooden pallets shipping internationally do require pallet treatment).

Plastic pallets, on the other hand, are more expensive; but, they are extremely durable (long shelf life) and will not retain moisture or harbor bugs.  They are also highly reusable and ideal for organizations that operate in a closed-loop warehouse or for companies that have dual purposes for pallets, such as use in a store display.  While often preferred in the pharmaceutical, automotive, and beverage industries, plastic shipping pallets remain less common than wood in other industries, ultimately, due to cost.

If you are unsure which pallet is right for you, refer to our post on pallet selection or contact our pallet pros to discuss your options and cost-saving alternatives.

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