Traditionally made from wood or wood products, pallets are a versatile packaging material commonly used to transport goods from manufacture to distributor. As environmental concerns and international trade have increased, plastic pallets are becoming more common. These products have many advantages over wood, including lighter weight with no reduction in load capability, greater environmentally compatibility, and exemption from the ISPM 15 and IPPC regulations enforced on wood packaging used in international shipments.
Plastic pallets are constructed of strong but light plastic material, which significantly reduces shipment costs, especially air freight. These come in a variety of designs and sizes, and weight load options can range from 1200 lbs. (544 kg) to over 7700 lbs (3493 kg). Electronic equipment is very sensitive to static electricity, and wood pallets have been a safe option because the nails in the wood cause static to dissipate into the ground. Plastic can be more susceptible to static, but plastic pallets designated for electronic transfer have been treated with an anti-static material which alleviates this concern.
In an effort the reduce invasive, non-indigenous insect infestations, the International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC) passed a United Nations treaty signed by 115 companies governing wood packaging materials used for international shipments. This document requires that all wood packaging material be treated by one of two methods, heat treatment or fumigation. It can be heat treated in a manner which achieves a minimum core temp of 132.8 ° F (58 °C) for a minimum of 30 minutes, or it can be treated with methyl bromide (MB) fumigation.
The European Union (EU) adopted the a similar measure called the International Standard for Phytosanitary Measures #15, or ISPM 15, which mirrored the IPPC. Recent modifications have been made to the EU standards which require the debarking of all wood used in shipping materials. Originally, Canada and the US exempted one another from compliance as long as the packaging was made from native woods, but that exemption has been rescinded over growing concerns over invasive insect infestations.
Plastic pallets are bacteria, insect, and mold resistant, and are exempt from both IPPC and ISPM 15 requirements. When using wood, a shipper not only has to be concerned with compliance, but must also make certain the pallets are marked for compliance in a manner dictated by the receiving country. The standards do not specify harmonized markings, so these may vary greatly from country to country. Wood packaging may be delayed at the port while customs officials confirm compliance, but such a delay will not occur with plastic pallets.
In addition to being insect resistant, plastic is water resistant and impervious to acids, fats, solvents and odors. They can be thermoformed, rotary or injection molded. Many plastic pallets are actually made from recycled materials, and are fully recyclable once they are no longer needed. In the past, the rehabilitated used wood pallets were the least expensive option for one-way shipment, though at times their strength was compromised by their prior use. As wood supplies become more difficult to obtain, inexpensive models of plastic pallets have become available to meet this need.