Pallets are anything but glamorous, but they are the backbone of supply chain management. Whether wood, plastic, metal, or corrugated cardboard, pallets are necessary to keep goods flowing from one end of the supply chain to the other. Within the warehouse, they also serve to hold goods, whether on the ground or on racks. While there’s not much change in pallet design or purpose from one year to the next, as the supply chain evolves, so too do pallets and pallet usage.
A recent study conducted by Peerless Research Group drilled down into current market trends with pallets. It tracked the most and least used types of pallets, how and why companies select the pallets they use, and how usage is evolving.
Looking at the numbers, most companies continue to use wood —94 percent, in fact—a number consistent with last year. Plastic comes in second, followed by wood composite, metal, and cardboard. Sizes, however, are changing. Traditionally, 48 by 40 inches was the most dominant size pallet. While it remains at the top, more companies are starting to use the 48 by 48 size pallet.
Pallet pooling is up this year by eight percent, while 56 percent of the companies reported purchasing new wood pallets. Those who buy used pallets report a short supply, although they are finding them more easily than at the height of the pandemic in 2020. Most of the respondents don’t rent pallets, nor do they plan to.
A small percentage of the respondents in the survey—17 percent—use a third-party service to help manage their pallets and packaging. This includes allowing that third party to help them determine what type of wrapping is best for their business needs. Those pallet managers also offer recycling and reclamation process management.
One of the big considerations for many companies these days is developing a sustainable supply chain. A long-standing debate about whether plastic or wood are the most eco-friendly was finally settled a couple of years ago by a study out of Penn State University. Researchers there conducted several detailed comparisons and determined that wood is a bit more friendly to the environment than plastic.
The researchers assessed several factors related to each of the pallet types. This included long-term performance, cradle-to-grave life cycle, and the treatments required to kill pests. The researchers also investigated the environmental impacts of resources consumed and emissions released by wooden and plastic pallets throughout their life cycles.
Other considerations of the research were ozone layer depletion, aquatic ecotoxicity, land occupation, non-renewable energy, and how both plastic and wood are compared on a trip basis. After the research concluded, wood pallets came out on top, especially when multiplied over thousands of trips. While plastic pallets often have a much longer life cycle than their wooden counterparts, their petroleum or natural gas basis makes them less sustainable in the big picture. Every company must compare their goals with pallets and choose accordingly.