For most manufacturers, pallets are an essential component of the supply chain, but your choice of plastic vs wood pallets can be a difficult decision to make. While it’s estimated that 90-95% of shippers go with wood pallets, the fact is that each type of pallet has its own advantages and disadvantages.

There are many different factors that must be taken into consideration, before choosing one over the other. Ultimately, each manufacturer must decide whether plastic pallets or wood pallets are the best fit for their applications.

Plastic Pallet Advantages

There are a number of advantages in using plastic vs wood pallets, with the biggest one being that plastic pallets are generally cleaner. That’s why it’s a popular choice for industries with strict hygiene requirements, such as the fresh/frozen food and pharmaceutical industries. When you use plastic pallets, you don’t generally have to worry about mold or bugs. Plastic pallets are easy to clean, wash, and sterilize because they aren’t porous. Closed-loop warehouse environments often use plastic because their pallets are returned to them, and plastic also works well on pallet wrapping machines.

Plastic pallets are also said to be more durable and weather resistant, although that’s only true up to a point – which we’ll discuss when we get to the disadvantages. Another pro of using plastic is that it is re-usable, but again only under specific circumstances. Plastic pallets contain no fasteners or nails that might come out of the pallet during transport, they don’t splinter, they don’t give off any moisture, and plastic pallets burn at higher temperatures than wood, especially if they’re UL-listed. Lastly, plastic pallets are much lighter than their wooden counterpart, and often makes a nicer store display.

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Plastic Pallet Disadvantages

There are a few really big disadvantage to using plastic pallets. The first one is cost. In general, plastic pallets cost about 3 times more than wood pallets. Although a manufacturer can recoup that cost if they get their plastic pallets back for reuse, companies shipping overseas almost never get their pallets back.

Plastic pallets are reusable and may have a longer shelf-life, but they can’t be repaired if they get damaged. In order to recycle a plastic pallets, they must be melted down because they are basically made from oil.

More specifically, plastic pallets are made from high-density polyethylene (HDPE), which is created from petroleum or natural gas, and that brings up a point about sustainability. Being made of HDPE means that plastic pallets are not particularly eco-friendly, they come from a non-renewable resource, and they have a significant impact on the environment.

Plastic pallet manufactures claim that plastic pallets are more durable and weather resistant as a key advantage, but there’s a little more to the story. Plastic pallets stored out in the hot Texas sun will become more flexible, instead of maintaining their rigidity. When stored out in the cold of a North Dakota winter, plastic pallets will become more likely to break. Under temperate outdoor weather or temperature controlled conditions, plastic pallets are pretty durable – yes. When considering the durability issue, one must also consider the weight plastic pallets can tolerate. Loads over 1,500 pounds can’t use plastic pallets or they will buckle.

Plastic pallets are lighter, and that’s an advantage, but they also have a smooth, slippery surface that makes them nearly impossible to stack more than a few high.  That makes storage of these reusable pallets a real pain in the neck.

Lastly, it’s pretty cost prohibitive to use plastic pallets when you need a custom pallet configuration for your products. In general, plastic pallets come in standard sizes, but that may not work for your products. You can get plastic pallet manufacturers to make custom sizes just for your organization, but you better be ready to pay a whole lot more and commit to buying a lot of them.

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Wood Pallet Advantages

As with plastic pallets, there are also a number of advantages to use wood pallets. One of the biggest advan