Pallets might not be the most exciting of products to have graced the pages of this website, but when you consider the global movement of goods that are shifted from factories onto lorries and container ships, the importance of the humble pallet cannot be over exaggerated.

When choosing a pallet there are a number of issues that you need to take into account. In this article we give you a snapshot into the fascinating pallet industry, to highlight how important it is to choose the right product for the right job, and the impact that choice has on achieving sustainability in the global market place.

A century of transporting goods

Officially the first wooden pallet made its appearance in 1925 – nearly 100 years ago now. The first patents for a wooden pallet were filed by Robert Braun, who invented the first wooden pallet with four sides, and Norman Cahners, who invented the first disposable pallet.

The design for the pallet itself came from Ancient Egypt – it is possible that a similar contraption could have been used to transport the stones used in the construction of the pyramids. This simple contraption, otherwise known as a ‘skid’ was used and adapted over the centuries – it was similar in design to a pallet, but was more simple, with just a platform and three beams.  

Pallets played an essential role during World War Two – millions of them were commissioned to create transport armaments along supply chains.  

Strength and versatility in design

It is important to note that despite the relatively simple design of a pallet, it is actually strong enough to hold approximately two tonnes of weight – that is about the equivalent of one white rhino, or two baby humpback whales.

The standardised design of pallets has been tried and tested over the decades to ensure that manoeuvring and transporting goods can be carried out as safely and efficiently as possible using fork lift trucks that can bear and manipulate heavy loads.

A lesson in recycling

The pallet industry actually presents to us a dedication to recycling and sustainability that should be a lesson for industries the world over.

Initially pallets were manufactured using wood. Pallet manufacturers these days are completely tuned in to the need to ensure their practices are environmentally friendly, and so work extensively with forestry commissions the world over, contributing to reforestation programmes that not only replace what they have taken out, but ensure additional resources are put in as well.

Alongside this, there has been an explosion in the manufacture of plastic pallets. On the whole, plastic pallets are manufactured using 100 per cent recycled plastic. Once placed in the logistics cycle, each pallet can be sued upwards of 120 times before it loses its strength and durability. Once out of commission, a pallet can be returned to a recycling unit where it is broken down and put back into the manufacturing chain.

An essential link in the logistics chain

Pallet ‘technology’ has advanced considerably over the last few years. Specification criteria have become more stringent.

Pallets that are lightweight, easy to clean, durable and versatile are becoming more prevalent. Hygiene is equally important, particularly if transporting food stuffs. Wooden pallets have to be compliant with ISPM 15 standards, which requires them to be heat treated to provide a guarantee that there are no bugs hiding within the timber which could lead to potential infestations being transported across international borders.

Plastic pallets are exempt from this requirement as it is not possible for pests to burrow in the smooth plastic surface. Ultimately there are arguments for and against wooden and plastic pallets, but both have proven their worth over the last few decades, and both will continue to play a prominent role in the movement of goods around the world.

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