Pallets may have contributed much to logistics efficiency when first combined with forklifts over 70 years ago but that does not mean that one’s pallet handling regime is as cost efficient and environmentally friendly as it could be. And nor does life among pallets necessarily get less complicated. Take, for example, the problem of fake white wood pallets. Earlier this year the European Pallet Association (EPAL), one of the largest ‘open pools’ of white Euro pallets in the world, urgently recommended to “cease exchanging EPAL Euro pallets for UIC/EUR pallets,” run by the International Union of Railways (UIC) which oversees another Euro pallet pool of a similar size. The problem is East European gangs flooding the market with counterfeit white wood pallets, with over four million fakes entering the pool from the Ukraine alone. This poses many problems surrounding poor quality, risks to workplace safety and refusal of retailer customers to accept UIC/EUR pallets, or charge a penalty for doing so, all incurring higher costs. The Chep pallets are not affected because their pool is closed, i.e. their pallets cannot be exchanged with those of any other pallet manufacturer.

A major cost issue that requires serious thought is whether or not to hand over control of one’s pallets to a pool operator, in which re-usable pallets are rented provided customers return the pallets rather than selling them on or destroying them. Those users who currently do not use the pools will only form an accurate assessment of their own pallet control issues by carefully examining all the cost issues of returns, tracking, repairs, poor quality and losses. This last cost issue can be particularly painful if controlling your own plastic pallets, which typically cost up to 10 times wood and corrugated paper pallets. One plastic pallet rental company found that they were paying out £50,000 a year just to replace lost plastic pallets. To reduce those costs the company fitted RFID tags to the pallets.

Pallet pools may not always be the better choice. It depends on the size of the pallet user, as the French supermarket giant, Intermarche, found when it left a rented wood pallet pool for its own plastic pallet pool. Among the advantages cited for such a move was a big drop in repetitive strain injuries owing to plastic’s much lighter weight, and less injures from splinters and nails. The company expected to see a return on its investment within 2.5 years.

On one pallet pool issue there can be no doubt. This is its sustainability record. In 2016, for example, Brambles, operators of the Chep brand, reported that its circular business model saved 1.4 million trees, 2.3 million tonnes of CO2 emissions and 1.3 million tonnes of solid waste. In collaboration with 177 of its customers they removed 35 million kilometres from their combined transport distances.

Issues affecting the choice of pallet type are governed by their applications. Those pallet loads destined for exports, especially by airfreight, should be cheap but strong enough for a one-tripper pallet. Weight for air freight is an important cost factor and this is where consideration should be given to corrugated paper pallets like the Pallite that weigh only 5 kg compared with up to five times that for wood and plastic. Unlike wood they do not need ISPM15 treatment to meet export regulations. Issues like how evenly the load weight is distributed across the pallet will govern how strong the pallet should be.

There is the possibility of going palletless through the use of slip sheets and special attachments like those from MSE-FORKS. Their Rollerforks use two layers of rollers per fork and can cope with load stacking in containers and trailers with a variant, Rollerforks- PushPull. Another solution, well suited to sacked loads, is the Moellers stretch wrap system that stacks the sacks in a way that leaves two fork voids at the load base.