It’s a question that often comes up when you buy pallets.  Should you choose new wooden pallets, recycled pallets, or remanufactured pallets to meet your supply chain needs?  While the final decision may simply come down to cost, it’s important to know the difference and fully understand what you’re paying for when you buy pallets.

Let’s talk about each of your wooden pallet options and explain the differences.

Recycled Pallets

The world of recycled pallets can be a bit confusing if you don’t understand the industry lingo and have a clear understanding of what to expect in a wooden pallet that’s been recycled.

To begin with, recycled pallets go by a lot of different names:

  • Recycled Pallets

  • Repaired Pallets

  • Reconditioned Pallets

  • Refurbished Pallets

No matter what a company chooses to call its recycled pallets, it still amounts to a pallet that is used over and over again until it reaches the point when it can no longer be repaired.  While in use, a recycled pallet will be repeatedly repaired by replacing, plating, or plugging deck boards and stringers so that it can maintain its integrity and remain structurally sound.

The vast majority of recycled pallets are 48 x 40 pallets, also known as standard pallets or GMA pallets. This standard pallet size was established by the Grocery Manufacturers Association, now known as the Consumer Brands Association. Even though the company’s name has changed, “GMA pallet” is still the preferred name for the standard-sized pallet. These GMA pallets have notched stringers, seven boards on top, and five boards on the bottom.  If you need to buy pallets that are a custom size, then you probably won’t find them in the recycled market, but there are other standard sizes you can also find:

  • EPAL Pallets – Euro pallets measuring 1200 mm × 800 mm × 144 mm

  • CP1 Pallets – Chemical pallets measuring 48 x 40

  • CP3 Pallets – Chemical Pallets measuring 44” square

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Recycled Pallet Grades

Recycled pallets are also graded based on their condition and the types of repairs they have undergone.  The grade of the wooden pallet not only gives you an idea of what to expect in the way of repairs and condition, but the grade of the pallet usually dictates the price when you buy pallets.

In general, GMA recycled pallets are classified as either A, B, or C.  Here’s what each of those grades means:

  • Grade A Recycled Pallets:  These are the best-looking recycled pallets, although they will show wear and discoloration as the wood oxidizes and ages.  Grade A recycled pallets, sometimes referred to as #1, have no plugs or companion stringers, but they may have plates.  Generally, the quality and specs of Grade A pallets are more consistent than lower grade recycled pallets because they’ve been used in fewer cycles.

  • Grade B Recycled Pallets:  This grade of recycled pallet has typically experienced damage to at least one of its stringers, which means they usually contain plugs or companion stringers.  Aesthetically, grade B pallets are not very pretty, and usually can’t be used in store displays.  They tend to have a patched look, because of the plugs and companion stringers, and they are more worn and discolored than grade A.

  • Grade C Recycled Pallets:  When you buy pallets that are recycled, these are the ugliest you can purchase.  Grade C pallets are near the end of their life and have lots of discoloration, may have multiple plugs and companion stringers, and will likely have multiple plates.  Generally, these are the least reliable recycled pallets on the market.

In addition to the basic recycled pallet grades above, each grade of pallet can be further broken down into grades like 1A, AAA, 2A, etc.  Each recycled pallet vendor has its own way of marketing its grades of recycled pallets.  The higher the grade, the more expensive the pallet.

For example, when you buy pallets that are Grade 1A, you can expect the following characteristics:

  • No protruding nail heads

  • Little or no deviation from being square

  • Minimum thickness of deck boards at 9/16th of an inch

  • Possible paint or grease, along with little or no tar