Plastic or Wood When Picking Your Shipping Pallets?


For companies exporting product to retail warehouses (as the final destination) on shipping vessels one key consideration has determined the efficient arrival (and subsequent use) of the cargo – pallets.

Pallets of course are used to stack boxes of product on, shrink wrapping the items tightly for safe and secure shipping. They allow cargo to be loaded and unloaded with mechanical lifts (high-stackers and forklifts) while remaining accessible for standard hand-jacks to move them around in a warehouse and on the retail floor. Awhile back pallet options were limited to the heavy wood variety. In recent times many warehouse operations within retail giants and big box stores have switched a portion of their shipping methods to incorporate plastic pallets. If you have the option to use either wooden or plastic pallets when preparing a product shipment and you are accounting for the retail warehouse operation convenience then you will want to consider the following:

Are Plastic of Wooden Pallets Better for Your Receiving Retailer?

1. Width of Retail Warehouse Bays

Product stacked on pallets will often not be broken down and distributed to the retail floor soon after arrival. In most circumstances the cargo will be kept as inventory and thus be stored on the same pallets they arrived on within the metal bracketed bays of the warehouse. It will be important to the recipient that you know the width dimensions of these bays. Common warehouses fit two or three wooden pallets side by side in each bay with enough wiggle room to stick high-stacker base legs into either side of the pallets. Plastic pallets however are commonly wider, allowing only enough room to drop the pallets within the bays but without ample space to stick a high-stacker in for lifting. If your retailer warehouse does not have the bay room then wood pallets may be your best option.

2. Physical Strength of Breakdown Staff

This may sound extreme but the simple fact is if your retailer’s breakdown crew isn’t physically equipped to grab, lift, and stack pallets once the products have been taken off and sorted the warehouse floor will be left a pallet scattered mess, when using wood. A warehouse backroom with wood pallets left about on the floor leads to product/equipment damage and personal injury. Many big box stores employ a diverse array of workers that are certainly efficient on the retail floor but due to age, health, and other considerations cannot maneuver the weight of heavy wood pallets, and would thus be better served with the far lighter plastic alternative.

3. Will Pallets be Displayed on the Retail Floor?

Plastic pallets used to display product on the retail floor provide for a more consistent aesthetic (EXACT match color and size), are easier for staff to pull out and maneuver (light weight), and result in fewer stubbed toe injuries than sharper edged wooden pallets. However they also consume space more and once product sells down to less than 50% they pallets can shift when being bumped by customer carts and the like. The unique retail floor operations will have to be well considered when selecting wooden or plastic pallets.

4. Pallet Pick-Up Schedule

Your retailer will have a pallet pick-up service in place. If daily and efficient, wooden pallets stacked in the receiving bay and awaiting pick-up won’t be of much concern. However if the schedule is less than ideal, and space is limited in the warehouse receiving bay, then you may agree with your receiving retailer that stack-fitted plastic pallets which fit and stack far more snugger and more compact (think Lego-like) are a better option. In many warehouses wooden pallets can only be stacked 16 high. Fitted plastic pallets can reach the roof at a greater number.

5. Cost

Plastic pallets are more expensive than wooden pallets, plain and simple. However this cost is often accepted by those responsible for shipping due to fewer concerns regarding timber regulations (Phytosanitary concerns of insects and other invasive moisture born bacteria). It depends on who is “eating the cost” in addition to the cost benefit analysis associated with the above variables.

If you have any further questions regarding this topic as you prepare to ship your cargo from a Greater Vancouver port please feel free to contact Cratex Group, your Vancouver industrial packing and crating company.