1. Your Industry and Products
Your first consideration when trying to decide plastic vs wood pallets is the industry in which you operate. Some industries only use wood, others only plastic. It makes sense to stick with the standard for ease of transport and customer expectation, unless you have a very good reason not to. Keep in mind that 90-95% of companies use wood.
You also need to consider the items that you’re moving. For some manufacturers, like products requiring pallet sterilization, plastic is the best fit. In other cases, wood makes more sense – Heavy machinery comes to mind.
2. Product Weight
The weight of the products that you’re shipping will make a big difference in the type of pallet you choose. Anything over 1,500 pounds should go with wood. If you’re unsure, there are several questions you should ask your pallet manufacturer before deciding.
3. Sensitivity of Your Product
If the items you’re shipping are extremely sensitive, you may need to consider additional cushioning or bracing for your products no matter which type of pallet you use. If your products are so sensitive that a lose nail or fastener might spell disaster in the way of puncturing, like canisters under high pressure for example, then maybe plastic is a better option – if plastic will support the weight.
4. Will You Export?
If you’re planning to export your products, wood is the way to go. Plastic pallets are expensive, and you’re unlikely to get them back from overseas. Wood pallets will need to meet export compliance rules, but you’ll still come out way ahead on expense.
5. Pallets as Part of Store Display
If you’re planning to use your pallets as part of an in-store display, plastic might look better than wood. In many cases, such as the warehouse and big box stores, it won’t really matter either way.
6. Is Cost the Most Important Factor?
If the cost of pallets is your most urgent consideration, then wood is the way to go. Plastic pallets cost 3 times more than wood pallets.
7. Will You Need Custom Pallet Sizes?
When it comes to plastic vs wood pallets, customization possibilities are one of the reasons that many manufacturers choose wood. It’s difficult and cost prohibitive to get plastic pallets in custom sizes and with extra features like blocking. Wood makes customization simple and cost effective.
8. Supply Chain Carbon Footprint
If one of the mandates of your company is to reduce your carbon footprint in the supply chain, then wood pallets are the obvious choice over plastic. Not only does wood offer a smaller, or even negative, carbon footprint, but wood is also the eco-friendly and sustainable option.
Plastic pallets, on the other hand, are made from high-density polyethylene, which is petroleum or natural gas. That makes them a non-renewable resource.
While we tried to make this an unbiased comparison of plastic vs wood pallets, our business revolves around wood. Obviously, we think wood is the best fit for most applications, but there are definitely times when a plastic pallet would serve a manufacturer better.
In the end, you’ll need to consider a lot of different factors before choosing a pallet material. We’ve discussed a lot of different factors above, but the final decision may require that you weigh the trade-offs. For example, you may decide that shipping your super fragile products on wood, fully expecting to write a small percentage off, is less expensive than shipping on plastic pallets. In other words, the small risk of damage is worth the lower cost. Here are some other examples:
- Shipping on plastic pallets might make a prettier display in the store, but is it worth the added expense?
- Is it worth taking a one-size-fits all plastic pallet and risking damage to your product, or would a custom wood solution be better?
- Is it worth it to your company to go with a non-renewable resource over an eco-friendly option? Will your customers agree?
There are also times when plastic is really the only option. Applications that require pallet sterilization is one of those situations. It’s nearly impossible to sterilize wood to the level necessary for some pharmaceutical applications, for example (although many pharmaceutical shipments don’t require sterilization).
The bottom line is that manufacturers need to weigh all their options, as well as the risk/reward, to make a good decision for their individual applications. If you need help figuring out if wood is right for your situation, get in touch with us. We’re happy to help!