Many pallet users may feel disposed to loathe them because they can be an expensive headache that adds no value to the products being shipped but that loatheing can be diminished if one chooses the right pallet medium for the job or hand over the function of pallet control to a pallet pool.

Pallet pooling systems rent reusable pallets under the condition that customers return the pallets rather than selling them on or destroying them. They are, instead, returned to the nearest retrieval centre for inspection and, if necessary, repair. A big advantage of the system is that they use top quality pallet and container products without the initial outlay of buying and this is important because the quality of the one-way white wood exchange pallet can be so bad as to collapse in transit and lead to high load damage costs and damaged business relations. This is one reason why Spanish fruit and vegetable producers have switched away from one-way white wood exchange pallets to a CHEPmanaged pool to gain operational efficiencies, cost-savings and environmental benefits.

Pallet pools, of course, deal in plastic as well as wood, with the former costing far more to buy than wood but depending on the pool operator some offer rental costs that are the same for plastic and wood. But pools are not entirely without their problems.

Sometimes businesses may find a trickle of blue pool pallets into their premises without any idea on what to do with them. These are often stolen and can end up with a business that is not a pool customer. Some businesses may sell on these sturdy pool pallets to pool clients while others find a way of returning them to the pool owner for a fee, or simply just keep them. In America this has led to many court cases. Pallet pools may also not be the best cost option, depending on the size of the pallet user. This is what the French super market giant, Intermarche, found when it left the rented wood pallet pool by setting up its own plastic pallet pool. The company expects to see a ROI within 2.5 years and is particularly pleased by the big drop in repetitive strain injuries owing to plastic’s much lighter weight.

Freedom from splinters and nails also offered another health and safety advantage over wood. Usually, the characteristics and qualities that shippers prioritize dictates pallet preference. Wood still remains the most popular pallet option owing to its economy and tensile strength. It is also repairable, recyclable and environmentally sustainable.

Nevertheless, plastic is gaining ground as the price differential between the two narrows. New developments are constantly picking away at wood’s price advantage. A good example is the plastic Pack Less pallet, based on a tubular design from a Brazilian company. Weighing only 3 kg, it can support a 4,000 kg load and takes up only 0.05 mt3 space compared with 0.2 mt3 for a typical wood pallet. It is ISPM exempt and being non-hygroscopic it does not absorb or give off moisture. Unlike wood, it is ideal in food and pharma applications. Tests show, for example, that wood pallets are known to harbour pathogens like E.coli and listeria and they are seven times more susceptible to contamination with E.coli. Wood, of course, can be fumigated but that involves ozone-depleting toxins.

Metal pallets should not be overlooked in certain circumstances. Aluminium, for example, is quickly gaining traction in America as a popular means of shipping and storing of freight. Being fire proof, they could help with insurance rates and if ultra-light models are used, weighing around nine pound, compared with 65 lb for wood and 50 lb for plastic, then air freight costs could be significantly cut. As with plastic pallets, paper pallets like the Pallite are making waves. Advantages include very light weight, low cost on a par with wood but free of all wood’s problems, like splinters and nails and need for treatments because wood is not ISPM 15 exempt. Their weight cost advantage, bespoke sizes and extraordinary strength make them a serious money-saving contender for air freight, especially when combined with their strong paper pallet boxes.