Plastic pallets have become the cornerstone of sustainable, green supply chain management (GSCM). Their efficiency, durability, and cost-effectiveness has earned them the support of environmentalists, distributors, and economists alike. Today, plastic pallets are manufactured by hundreds of companies worldwide. Unlike wood pallets, plastic pallets offer a wide range of styles, sizes, and features. To help you purchase the best plastic pallets for your business, here’s the definitive buyer’s guide to plastic pallets.
Pallets with length-wise, structurally supportive runners are often referred to as “rackable” or “rack-compatible” pallets. Having skid runners instead of feet enables rackable pallets to span the width of industrial storage racks and shelving. Naturally, rackable pallets can also be stacked or rest directly on the floor. Rackable pallets tend to be among the strongest options on the market, but that strength generally comes with additional weight and material costs. They’re necessary for rack storage and ideal for warehouses, retail stores, and general product storage.
The nestability of many plastic pallets is a huge advantage over traditional wood pallets. Designed with concave, cupped feet, these pallets nest inside each other when empty. This nesting provides incredible space efficiency, which can save a lot of money on return shipping and storage. While a traditional wood pallet may require more than six inches of vertical space, a nestable pallet can often require less than an inch when nested inside another pallet. This means that while a dozen wood pallets may waste up to six feet of vertical space, that same space can be filled with more than 60 nestable pallets.
Many plastic pallet descriptions include the word “stackable.” What this means is that those pallets are designed with features that enable safe and secure stacking. The design of these features can range. Nestable pallets are inherently stackable, due to their cupped feet. Other stackable designs may include a small lip or edge along the top of the pallet that matches a corresponding groove or slot along the bottom. More advanced plastic pallet designs may feature entire deck tops that interlock with the bottom runners of other pallets. Whatever design technology is used, the end results are pallets that securely stack together — helping to eliminate the clutter and risks associated with precarious stacks of wooden pallets.
Export “One Way” Pallets
Lightweight pallets are often referred to as “one way” or “export” pallets. These minimalist plastic pallets are often inexpensive and lightweight, reducing the costs associated with packaging and freight. But don’t mistake their streamlined look with weakness. Plastic export pallets can generally hold loads equal to or heavier than traditional wood GMA pallets (4,600 lbs.), but plastic pallets often weigh much less. As an added benefit, the moisture and contaminant resistance of plastic pallets can also help reduce product spoilage and customs issues caused by infested wood pallets.
Closed Deck Pallets
Closed deck pallets are those with solid-surface tops. These decks provide a smooth surface for the bottom of the cargo, which can be ideal for sensitive products. They minimize surface abrasion and protect contents from sagging or falling through the pallet. Some closed deck pallets have structural or functional features built in. These features can include non-slip materials, drainage holes, strap restraints, etc.
Ventilated Deck Pallets
As a hybrid between closed and open deck pallets, ventilated deck pallets feature generally smooth top faces with a number of ventilation holes, slits, or grooves. These vents protect the bottom of contents while still allowing airflow and drainage around products. This helps manage the moisture, pressure, temperature, and gaseous exposure of contents. Ventilated deck pallets are popular with industries dealing with food processing, paper goods, textiles, building materials, and wet conditions.
Open Deck Pallets
Open deck pallets provide minimal touch points on the surface of the pallet. They generally rely on a web or grid based design to provide structural support, but they remain otherwise open from top to bottom. The absence of a solid deck reduces the weight and provides unparalleled visual access, tie down points, drainage, and ventilation. Open deck pallets are popularly used with exports, packaged goods, agricultural produce, and machinery.
Plastic pallets serve every industry, but flat pallets aren’t always the best fit. Speciality pallets are made for a wide number of uses. They include standard, octagonal, and cubed drainage retention pallets, drum pallets, and concave pallets with cylindrical supports for rolled materials. Another innovative style of specialty pallets are sectional, interlocking pallets. Sold in individual sections, these plastic pallets connect to one another and allow users to build the perfect pallets for their specifications.
There are three primary materials used in plastic pallets. While each have their own unique benefits (e.g. rigidity vs. impact resistance), they’re generally equally sufficient for most use cases. The differences outlined here will not be noticeable for most users, but they may be a factor for those seeking to push the performance limits of various pallets.
High Density Polypropylene (HDPP) Pallets
High Density Polypropylene (HDPP) is the most common resin used in plastic pallets. It is light, durable, widely available, and used in everything from milk jugs to furniture. Slightly less rigid than HDPE (see below), HDPP has incredible impact resistance. HDPP tends to be more cost-effective than HDPE. HDPP pallets are ideal for high volume, fast paced, and tough work environments.
High Density Polyethylene (HDPE) Pallets
High Density Polyethylene (HDPE) is the most common plastic in the United States, and the second most popular option for plastic pallets. As a chemical compound, it is slightly more rigid than HDPP, which makes it stronger but also less impact resistant. It’s ideal for sensitive products and low-abuse environments, such as in the technology, glasswares, and beverage distribution sectors.
Polyolefin (PO) & Advanced Composite Material (ACM) Pallets
Polyolefin (PO) is sometimes referred to as Advanced Composite Material (ACM). Made from a composite of various plastics and cellulose, PO tends to be more cost effective than HDPP and more rigid than HDPE. However, the PO material has been known to bleed colors or gels when exposed to water, so they are generally not used in food processing or with unprotected consumer goods. PO pallets work well in dry conditions and one-way shipping.
Standard Truck Sized Pallets
The typical tractor trailer hauls an 8-foot wide trailer, which is the same width as a sea container. As such, pallets with either lengths or widths of 48 inches (or slightly less) are generally ideal for maximizing load space. The most commonly used sizes are:
- 44″ x 44″
- 48″ x 32″
- 48″ x 40″ (GMA Size)
- 48″ x 45″
- 48″ x 48″
Plastic pallets can be invaluable to maximizing trailer and container space, as nearly all plastic pallets feature 4-way fork access. This enables pallets to be loaded from any side, often eliminating the need for space-wasting “chimney stacking” or “narrow:narrow” load configurations.
Extended Length Pallets
Extended length pallets are generally any that exceed 48 inches in any direction. These large pallets are often used to transport large machinery, furniture, and other pre-assembled items. While custom pallets can always be made, there are some more common extended length pallets, including:
- 26″ x 52″
- 52″ x 52″
- 54″ x 48″
- 60″ x 48″
- 60″ x 60″
On the opposite end of the spectrum, there is an almost endless array of small plastic pallets, which we define as any pallet with a length or width shorter than 32 inches. Small pallets are useful in optimizing space, perfect for smaller deliveries, and easy to navigate through smaller doorways, aisles, and rows. Like all plastic packaging products, small pallets can be highly customized and built-to-suit, making them ideal for product-specific uses. Frequently sold sizes include:
- 24″ x 16″
- 32″ x 24″
- 32″ x 30″
Shop Plastic Pallets by Size
Plastic pallets provide exceptional strength. Even the lightweight models often exceed the load capacities of wood pallets. Lightweight plastic pallet options are often rated for static loads over 3,000 lbs., and the heavy duty pallet versions are capable of carrying loads in excess of:
Pallet weight has a large impact on shipping costs, rack storage, and workplace ergonomics. Having the most efficiently weighted pallets in your fleet can save you money while also improving ease of use. Our export pallets are a great example of some of the lightest plastic pallets on the market. But even our most robust standard pallets are comparable in weight to standard wood pallets, with virtually all standard and small sizes weighing less than 50 lbs.
Additional Pallet Options and Features
RFID transponders can be embedded in plastic pallets to provide tracking, identification, and security. RFID transponders are an ideal addition to any closed loop supply chain or return credit distribution system.
Want the efficiency of a nestable pallet with the options of a rackable pallet? Some plastic pallet models are available with detachable runners (“skids”). These runners can be easily removed and replaced, which also makes these hybrid pallets ideal for high-abuse racking operations.
Anti-Slip Top Decks
Sometimes the contents on top of the pallet need a little extra help staying put. That’s easily accomplished with built-in friction pads and textured decks.
Want to make sure your goods don’t shift? Plastic pallets feature a number of subtle but effective rim styles. From complete, raised edges to small prongs, safety rims keep contents in place with also enabling the secure stacking of empty pallets.
Customized Imprinting, Labeling & Numbering
Plastic pallets provide a wide range of customizability. There are many hot stamping, printing, labeling, and engraving options available for everything from your branding to the pallet fleet number.
Metal Reinforcement Rods
Want to make a plastic pallet even stronger? Many styles are available with either built-in or optional metal reinforcement rods. These additional supports can increase dynamic load capacities and reduce bowing on pallets loaded with uneven weight distribution.
Stretch Wrap Traps
Built-in stretch wrap traps are available on many of our plastic pallets. The clever little slots hold stretch wrap in place, helping you get your wrapping started.
Using all three dimensions is an important way to reduce storage and transport costs. Top caps protect the contents of your pallet load while also providing a secure base for the stacking of the next loaded pallet.
Often paired with top-caps, sleeve packs provide walls for your pallets, turning a plastic pallet into a reusable, plastic gaylord-style bulk container. Sleeve packs are made from recyclable plastic (usually corrugated), and they collapse for easy storage and efficient returns.
The polymers that comprise most plastic pallets are naturally more fire retardant than wood. Nevertheless, additional fire retardation treatments can be added to plastic pallets to ensure that they meet the demands and safety requirements of your organization.
Many plastic pallet options feature UV protection either in the base product or as an add-on solution. This protects the color of the pallets when dealing with prolonged sun exposure.
FDA Compliant Materials
There are hundreds of styles of FDA compliant plastic pallets. Built with FDA approved resins (PP or PE) and colors, these plastic pallets are perfect for use in agricultural, food, beverage, and pharmaceutical industries.