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"A pallet (also called a skid) is a flat transport structure, which supports goods in a stable fashion while being lifted by a forklift, a pallet jack, a front loader, a jacking device, or an erect crane. A pallet is the structural foundation of a unit load which allows handling and storage efficiencies.Goods or shipping containers are often placed on a pallet secured with strapping, stretch wrap or shrink wrap and shipped. Since its invention in the twentieth century, its use has dramatically supplanted older forms of crating like the wooden box and the wooden barrel, as it works well with modern packaging like corrugated boxes and intermodal containers commonly used for bulk shipping.
While most pallets are wooden, pallets can also be made of plastic, metal, paper, and recycled materials. Each material has advantages and disadvantages.
Wooden pallet being dismantled
The production of pallets accounts for 43% of hardwood and 15% of softwood usage in the U.S.
The cheapest pallets are made of softwood and are often considered expendable, to be discarded as trash along with other wrapping elements, at the end of the trip. These pallets are simple stringer pallets, and liftable from two sides.
Slightly more complex hardwood block pallets, plastic pallets and metal pallets can be lifted from all four sides. These costlier pallets usually require a deposit and are returned to the sender or resold as used. Many "four way" pallets are color-coded according to the loads they can bear, and other attributes. Wood pallets can pose serious bio-hazard risks as they are susceptible to bacterial and chemical contamination, such as E. coli problems in food and produce transportation,and even insect infestation, and thus the need for ISPM 15.
Wooden pallet construction specifications can depend on the pallet's intended use: general, FDA, storage, chemical, export; the expected load weight; type of wood desired: recycled, hard, soft, kiln dried or combo (new & recycle); and even the type of fasteners desired to hold the pallet together: staples or nails.
Plastic pallets are often made of new HDPE or recycled PET (drink bottles). They are usually extremely durable, lasting for a hundred trips or more, and resist weathering, rot, chemicals and corrosion. The benefits of plastic pallets over wood pallets include the ability to be easily sanitized, resistance to odor, fire retardancy, longer service life span, durability and better product protection, non-splintering, and lighter weight, thus saving on transportation and labor costs and making them safer and more environmentally friendly.They often stack. Plastic pallets are exempt by inspection for biosafety concerns, and easily sanitize for international shipping. HDPE is impervious to most acids and toxic chemicals clean from them more easily. Some plastic pallets can collapse from plastic creep if used to store heavy loads for long periods. Plastic pallets cannot easily be repaired, and can be ten times as expensive as hardwood,so they are often used by logistics service providers who can profit from their durability and stackability. The large supply chains have increased the use of plastic pallets as many organisations seek to reduce costs through waste, transport and health & safety. Pallets and dollies can be combined (for example the Pally) ,eliminating pallet instability and the need for additional lifting equipment along with creating valuable space in busy operating environments. They also deliver significant time and cost savings by reducing supply chain handling. Plastics' reusability has contributed to an increase in usage of plastic pallets.
Plastic pallets are produced and used widely in the U.S. and Europe, spurred by the adoption of the ISPM 15. A full comparison of wood vs plastic can be made by a life cycle analysis. Plastic pallets can cost 10 times as much as hardwood palletsand even more expensive compared to cheap expendable softwood pallets. RFID chips can be molded into the pallets to monitor locations and track inventory."