Pallets are loading plates for driving under with a fork lift or lift truck. Everything worth knowing about pallet shípping, pallet use and sustainability.
What kinds of pallets are there?
Solid wood pallets, plastic pallets, pressboard pallets, corrugated board pallets, B4B lightweight pallets, metal pallets: They all are flat structures on which you can bundle, store and transport goods. Some pallets can only be driven under from two sides, some from all four. It is important to choose the right one, since what is at stake is
- cost efficiency,
- the best possible utilization of storage and freight space,
- secure shipment,
- employees’ protection from accident and injury,
- or durability and hence environmental protection.
Pallets are classified, among other characteristics, according to
- source material,
- dimensions and
There are special pallets for the transport of drums, steel cylinders, environmentally hazardous substances or small parts – with mesh side panels, for the latter
What type of wood are wooden pallets made of?
Pallets made of wood are the most popular pallets worldwide. What’s appealing about them is:
- They are low-priced.
- They consist of a renewable raw material.
- They can be reused.
Practical and inexpensive pallets made of pressed residual wood
Presswoodpallets are lighter and less expensive than pallets made of solid wood or plastic. Moreover,
- they can be stacked in one another,
- they do not have to be treated for export,
- they are closed at the bottom and hence protect goods against moisture and dirt.
- However, their load-capacity and durability are lower than pallets made from solid wood or plastic.
Many advantages, biggest market share: pallets made of solid wood
Pallets made of solid wood combine many advantages of other pallet types as regards stability, price, and environmental friendliness. They are
- completely recyclable,
- cheaper than pallets made of plastic,
- very robust,
- have higher antibacterial properties than plastic pallets,
- they can even be repaired,
- have a positive CO2 footprint (saving of 27.5 kg CO2 per Euro pallet),
- can be manufactured according to individual needs (shape, size, dimensions, load capacity) avoiding exorbitant molding costs,
- offer many supplementary solutions (stacking frames, superstructures),
- can be turned into chipboard for furniture or construction towards the end of their useful life, so the absorbed CO2 remains absorbed for many more decades. At the very end of their life, they can replace fossil fuels such as oil or gas through thermal recycling.
If we look at the entire life cycle, wooden pallets have a significantly better energy and ecological footprint than a comparable plastic pallet. This has been determined by the German Federal Association of Wood Packaging, Pallets and Export Packaging. No water is used in the production of wooden pallets. They are not treated with wood preservatives.
What are the disadvantages of pallets made of solid wood?
Solid wood pallets require a lot of storage space. The reason is that, just like most plastic pallets, they cannot be stacked in one another. They also need to be heat treated for export to prevent wood pests from traveling with them.
Pallets made of solid wood: without harmful organisms
Pallets made of solid wood must be free from pests, mold, and fungi. Heat treatment, fumigation and/or oven drying, among others, will take care of this, as laid down in a directive of the International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC), a UN-organization. The standard applies only to solid wood (coniferous or deciduous wood) with a thickness of at least 6 millimeters (0.236 inches) that is used for packaging or dunnage. It does not apply to wood-based materials. In the EU, pallets and crates, etc. made of wood can only be heat treated. The use of chemicals is prohibited. However, importing chemically treated wooden pallets and crates from abroad is allowed.
What makes the Euro pallet so special?
The reusable pallet made of solid wood has conquered the world during the past 50 years. Its distinctive marks: defined dimensions and exchangeability. Today, Euro pallets are produced under four brand names (World, Epal, Chep, LPR). No exchanges can take place between their pools. The world’s largest exchange system is operated by Epal, according to their own claims: More than 600 million Epal Euro pallets are said to be in circulation.
Euro pallets can also be exported to countries not participating in an exchange pool. However, often disposable pallets that the recipient must dispose of are used instead.
What is the size of the Euro pallet?
The name Euro pallet (actually: Euro pool pallet) may only be given to products complying with European standard 13698-1 of the European Pallet Association (EPAL). The Euro Pallet
- has a base area of 0.96 square meters (= 10.33 square feet),
- is 120 centimeters (47.24 inches) long, 80 centimeters (31.49 inches) wide and 14.4 centimeters (5.67 inches) high,
- consists of eleven boards, nine block feet made of pressboard and 78 special nails,
- must be produced from one of 17 defined wood types (most of them are made of spruce, fir or pine wood),
- is beveled on the four vertical outer edges,
- is a four-way pallet, can therefore be driven under with a fork lift or a stacker truck from all four sides,
- bears (in the case of Epal) the manufacturer’s logo on the outer blocks of the long side,
- must comply with the IPPC/ISPM15 directives.
Pallets with these dimensions are also available made from materials other than solid wood since they are ideal for a standard truck trailer with a width of 2.4 meters (7.87 feet) and a length of 13.40 meters (43.96 feet). 33 pallets measuring 120 cm by 80 cm by 14.4 cm (47.24” x 31.49” x 5.67”) can fit on a standard truck.
When new, a Euro pallet made of solid wood has a weight of about 20 kilograms (44.09 lbs). It has a high load-bearing capacity – of up to 1,000 kilograms (1.102 short tons) on a single point and maximally 2000 kilograms (2.204 short tons) if the weight is distributed uniformly. At the same time, it is inexpensive: Costs for a new Euro pallet start at about 14 euros, used ones are cheaper.
Until when are Euro pallets exchangeable?
On average, Euro pallets can be used for about six years.
To remain exchangeable, Epal pallets must be repaired. Repairs need to be made when
- a bottom edge board or a top edge board has splintered and more than one nail or screw shank is visible,
- a board or block is missing or broken,
- the Epal logo is no longer visible.
Only a licensed specialized company may repair Euro pallets.
What are the advantages and disadvantages of pallets made of plastic?
An important advantage: Plastic pallets are easy to clean
Plastic is the go-to material for the transport of food. They are also used for other products where hygiene is paramount. The advantages of plastic are:
- Germs and bacteria do not survive long on the smooth surface.
- Plastic is lighter than wood and is very durable.
- There is no risk of injury from wood splinters.
Significant disadvantage: Plastic pallets are more expensive than those made of wood
Plastic pallets have a worse environmental footprint than pallets made from renewable raw materials. However, that might change, since an increasing number of pallets are made of recyclate, a material produced from used plastic packaging and waste. Still a problem, whether from recyclate or primary material, is the microplastic created through abrasion.
Particularly for logistic products such as pallets, recyclate is considered an ideal basic material. The products can even obtain the Blue Angel eco-label.
What are the advantages and disadvantages of pallets made of corrugated board?
Corrugated board stands out due to its price and its environmental friendliness
Corrugated board pallets are significantly cheaper than wooden or plastic pallets. Their environmental advantage: They often consist largely of recycled materials. They can be disposed of with the paper waste and be recycled again - as long as they do not have plastic bases.
Corrugated board pallets consist of paper: Therefore, when exported they do not have to be treated according to IPPC/ISPM 15. That means that no fumigation or heat treatment is necessary in order to prevent pests being introduced into other countries.
Cardboard in the rain: not a permanent solution
Corrugated board pallets do not withstand wind and rain very long. That is true even if the corrugated board is water-repellent. Other disadvantages:
- Corrugated board pallets are usually disposable products.
- They tend to carry lightweight items. Their load-bearing capacity is normally between 300 and 700 kilograms (661.38 lbs to 1543.23 lbs), depending on their quality.
Pallets as transport packaging: What are the trends?
Experts are introducing innovations to address the problem of wooden pallets not being stackable in one another, among other things. B4B lightweight pallets are still quite new on the market. They are produced from wood fibers. In the competition for the 2019 Packaging Prize, the German Packaging Institute awarded its prize to a B4B lightweight pallet that does without staples and nails. The high-density fiberboard is stackable, mold-free, in conformance with IPPC/ISPM 15 and hence suitable for export. The jury was impressed by the weight of the pallet, about 5.5 kilograms (12.125 lbs), and its high load-bearing capacity: up to 900 kilograms (1984.16 lbs) dynamically, i.e., when it is moved, and 4,500 kilograms (4.96 tons) in the static state. However, there still seems to be no alternative in sight for international exchange models like the Euro pallet made of solid wood.
How to pack your pallet right
Whoever ships goods is responsible for all losses, damage and costs arising from inadequate packaging or identification of the goods. Heavy, bulky, and palletized goods should be packaged in such a way that they are optimally secured for repeated loading in the transshipment halls. Our tips and specifications:
- The maximum weight per package is 1500 kilograms (1.65 tons), the total weight of a shipment consisting of several packages is 2500 kilograms (2.75 tons).
- Pallets made of wood are particularly well suited to heavy items. For international shipment, it is important to observe the specifications for the condition of the wood applying in the destination countries.
- The goods must be safely packaged in a carton or a crate on a pallet.
- If the consignment is stackable, make sure that the parts are packed securely on the pallet.
- A Euro pallet is ideal, the maximal height is 2.20 meters (7.22 feet).
- Pack pallets in such a way that nothing protrudes over the edge.
How to pack cartons on the pallet
- Goods with a weight of up to 30 kilograms (66.14 lbs) can be packaged in a carton. Remember to use filling material to cushion the goods!
- If you stack cartons, this is done best from corner to corner and edge to edge. That increases the stability of the consignment.
- Interlocking stacking reduces the pressure on individual packages.
- Layers prevent piled up parcels of equal size from slipping.
- If parcels filled with goods cannot be arranged into an even surface on the pallet, any cavities can be filled in with parcels containing filling material only. Do not stack excess parcels pyramid-like on top, instead, dispatch them separately.
- Secure the pallet using strapping or stretch-wrapping film.
When are crates the better choice
- Heavy and large items such as engines/motors or systems equipment should be packed in wooden crates.
- The wood of the crate must be heat treated beforehand.
- Protect sides and edges, brace with the pallet
- Protect the edges as well as all six side faces, for example by means of cardboard. That stabilizes the pallet load and protects it from friction.
- If you ship large, oversized items such as cable reels and engines/motors, support the goods with wood or metal on the pallet and brace them tightly.
- With stretch wrapping film, straps and tapes you can connect the consignment to the pallet and secure it. Apply wrapping film in large quantities. The edge protection ensures that tapes do not damage the edges of the top cartons.
Special goods like tires, windshields, engines/motors or drums are transported by DHL Freight only completely packaged and secured on a pallet.
Further practical tips and environmental information on the pallet: