Due to recent industry innovations and the COVID-19 pandemic, warehouse pallets are getting an upgrade. As they’re such an essential part of an efficient facility, they must be able to handle the most challenging jobs, complete versatile tasks and keep your products (and your team!) safe.
But with these changes, a question has arisen: when it comes to wood versus plastic pallets, which one is better? Wooden pallets have been the standard for years, but as plastic becomes more popular, you may be wondering which one is superior.
To help you decide, we’re taking a look at pallets’ most critical characteristics to see how wood and plastic measure up.
Cleanliness and Sanitation
As warehouse managers are doing their best to keep their facilities safe, even pallets have experienced some (necessary) changes. With their extensive and repeated use throughout warehouses, many facility managers have considered what style of pallet can keep their products the safest from outside influences.
Plastic pallets can be easily copied from the same mold, erasing possible discrepancies seen in wooden pallets. These small inconsistencies in wooden pallets can be great hiding places for bacteria that may not exist on identical plastic ones. Plus, thanks to their smooth, non-porous surface, they are easier to sanitize after repeated use than wood pallets.
While plastic pallets may feel like the safer alternative, wood pallets can still be counted on to keep your products clean. According to recent research, it was proven that bacteria and viruses are less likely to survive on wood than on plastic.
On the other hand, wood possesses antibacterial abilities that help repel potential diseases from seeping in and stop them from spreading. But because they don’t have the non-porous surface that plastic pallets have, they’re more difficult to sanitize and more vulnerable to outside influences like water or chemicals.
Because of this, plastic pallets are generally easier to maintain in terms of cleanliness.
While both wooden and plastic pallets have inherent cleanly traits, additional sanitizing has become necessary. Whether you’re using wooden or plastic pallets, they must be cleaned and disinfected thoroughly to avoid outbreaks or disease spread through your products.
By creating a sanitizing routine, you can extend your pallets’ lives that are used repeatedly and keep your products safe. This routine should include how often to clean your tools, when and by whom, and protocol for cleaning emergencies.
As you’re choosing the disinfectants you use in this routine, make sure you’re picking a cleaning solution that will be safe on your pallet surfaces. It adheres to EPA guidelines and any additional rules your warehouse may have. We recommend a low-toxicity disinfectant – one that is still strong enough to eliminate any bacteria or pathogens that may be lurking.
To accommodate changing warehouse needs and unique products, warehouse managers have demanded more customization with their pallets.
Because of this, plastic pallets have continued to see increased demand. These pallet molds used to create custom pieces for a warehouse’s specifications, including:
- Pallet size
- How durable your pallets must be
- How versatile your pallets need to be
- If your pallets need additional coatings, such as urethane
- Whether pallets need to be able to be stacked, racked or nested
- Pallet weight and deflection limits
While wood pallets can also be changed in terms of size, they don’t have the customization that plastic pallets offer. But wood pallets are a much more economical option, as creating specific molds can be a costly investment.
If you’re ready to change your system to a more expensive but customized option, plastic pallets offer several options for warehouses with unique needs. If not, wood pallets can be sized to your needs, but they don’t provide the same variety of customizable options.
As most pallets are made of wood, there’s a concern that they’re not the most environmentally friendly option.
Plastic pallets may be more expensive upfront, but this investment lasts. They are lauded as a more sustainable product because they can last longer than wooden pallets. According to a study by the Virginia Tech Center for Packaging and Unit Design, plastic pallets can handle 10 to 20 times the amount of trips as wooden pallets. Plus, once plastic pallets are past their prime, they can be recycled like wooden pallets.
While wooden pallets may need to be replaced more often, they can also be broken down into pieces to fix or add to additional pallets, and they’re more easily repaired than plastic ones. Wooden pallets can also be used as bio-fuel instead of going to a landfill.
These two options both have pros as far as reducing your environmental footprint, but when it comes to declaring a clear winner, wood comes out on top.
In a recent study from the Journal of Industrial Ecology, wood pallets were determined to have a smaller impact during their life cycle compared to plastic. Plastic pallets may have last for longer, but they require additional petroleum or natural gas necessary to create and use molds. In this case, wood pallets come out on top.
An important consideration when choosing between wooden and plastic pallets is how well your industrial manipulators or moving applications can move them.
Plastic pallets have a slight advantage in this area. This style can be more helpful for industrial manipulators because they’re identical and can easily be stacked or nested together. Plus, the smooth edges can be easily detected by manipulators.
But, because wood pallets have been popular for so long, it’s easier to find manipulators that are prepared to move this style. Manipulators needed to move plastic pallets could require more customization.
What Works for Your Warehouse?
Deciding between these two styles depends mostly on what you’re looking for from your pallets. For food-related industries, the ability to be easily sanitized may be the focus. On the other hand, for packaging warehouses, it may be more critical that pallets can be moved often and efficiently. Review how much you’re willing to invest in pallet upgrades and the essential properties for your warehouse, and from there, it should be clear if wood or plastic is the right choice for you.
If your pallets require manipulators that are created for your custom specifications, Dalmec can help! Contact us today to discuss how we can build the solution to your pallet problem.