Pallet Management and
The National Wooden Pallet and Container Association states, "Pallets
move the world." Pallets, particularly wooden pallets, are the basic units
used to transport goods throughout the country. More than 600 million
pallets were manufactured in the United States in 1998. Approximately 90
percent of those manufactured were wooden pallets while the remaining
10 percent were manufactured from corrugated, metal, or plastic.
During the past two decades both timber prices and landfill fees have
increased and have compelled businesses to modify the way pallets are
managed. This fact sheet examines how businesses can evaluate and
improve their pallet management system and reduce associated waste.
Assess Pallet Use
Examine the current use of pallets; track pallet use from first arrival to
disposal. Note pallet sizes used (48" x 40," 40" x 40," etc), types used
(block, stringer, two-way, four-way), and number of pallets purchased,
shipped in, shipped out, returned, and disposed. Calculate costs incurred
from pallet purchase, maintenance, retrieval, and disposal. After gathering
this information, examine the options presented in this fact sheet for
reducing the number of pallets that your company must manage.
Investigate Pallet Waste Reduction Options
Have suppliers take back their pallets
Pick up shipped pallets from customers
Use high-quality pallets
Design a pallet-less system
Use plastic, composite, or metal pallets in
Arkansas a closed loop system
Department of Use corrugated paperboard pallets
Suppliers take back pallets
Recycling Section Require suppliers to take back pallets from previous shipments. Consider
charging a disposal fee for those pallets not taken back.
North Little Rock, Drivers pick up pallets
Require drivers to pick up pallets from previous shipments or pallets
(501) 682-0812 comparable to the ones your company uses. This will save the cost of
buying new pallets and promote reuse. If finding pallets at the time of pick
up is a problem, then implement a fee system. This system would charge
the customer a fee for each pallet that is not provided for return to your facility. A
disadvantage to this method includes driver time spent finding comparable pallets and
Use High-Quality Pallets
High-quality pallets are easier to repair and more likely to be repaired and reused again
and again. The cost per trip of higher quality pallets tends to be lower than cheap pallets
because high-quality pallets can withstand more trips before repair is needed.
Companies that use higher quality rebuildable pallets also can save as much as $3 to
$4 per pallet by repairing them in-house.
Design a Pallet-less System
Pallet-less systems include the use of slip-sheets, reusable containers, recyclable top
and bottom cardboard covers, rolling carts, and other material handling systems. These
products are usually tailored to the company's specific needs and are often reusable,
recyclable, and easy to clean.
Slip-sheets are flat sheets, 1/32" to 1/16" thick, and manufactured from
corrugated, solid fiber, or plastic (usually polypropylene or high density
polyethylene). Each sheet has one to four "tabs" that run the length of the sheet
and are bent upwards for grabbing by push/pull attachments. They may be
custom designed with alterable features including thickness, size, number of
tabs, and coatings for tensile strength, slip resistance, and moisture resistance.
Slip-sheets are best used in a warehouse/distribution center.
The following table compares general characteristics between the three different
Material Load Capacity * Cost* Recycling Notes
Recycle with corrugated Do not use
Corrugated 500 lbs. or less $0.50 - $0.60
unless contaminated around moisture
Can be repulped by paper Can withstand
Solid Fiber 1,000 - 2,000 lbs. $1.00
mills low moisture
Recycle with proper plastics
Plastic 2,500 or less $2.50 market may generate as Moisture resistant
much as $0.21 revenues each
Y Load capacity indicates the weight the tab can withstand when grabbed and moved via the
Y Costs vary depending upon quantity ordered, thickness, size and coatings added.
Slip-Sheet Advantages over Pallets:
Lighter and less bulky. Slip-sheets weigh around two
pounds compared to 50 pounds for a standard 48" x 40"
Increase storage space. 50-100 slip-sheets can be stored
in the same space as one pallet.
Lower employee injury. Stress/strain and injury from
manually handling pallets is prevented.
Inexpensive enough for one-time use. Avoids the manpower of
keeping track of pallets through exchanges.
Decreases product damage. Broken pallet boards, protruding
nails and splinters can damage products.
Recyclable. Corrugated, solid fiber, and plastic sheets are
recyclable with corresponding OCC, paper and plastic markets.
Disadvantages of Slip-sheets
Large start-up cost. Push/pull forklift attachments generally range
$5,000 -$6,000 each.
Need customer participation. Customers must have push/pull
attachments to move goods on slip-sheets
Water and moisture can weaken corrugated and solid fiber sheets
leading to load damage.
Slip-sheets must be placed on rackable pallets, or a steel wire
support system must be installed in racks.
Requires specialized training of forklift drivers to ensure proper
Reusable containers, usually manufactured from plastic, corrugated, solid fiber, or
metal, have many appealing features. The strength, durability, and cleanliness of
reusable containers are dependent upon the material used. Containers can be
ordered to fit your needs, including size, shape, color, partitions, and reusable
cushioning systems. They offer features such as being stackable, nestable and
collapsible for return.
Rolling carts usually made from heavy duty plastic or metal can be tailored to fit odd
shaped producers with considerably less protective packaging. Rolling carts tend to
save labor and reduce labor injury claims, as they are much easier to work with than
pallets. Savings on labor, injuries and protective packaging often can pay for these
carts in one year.
Closed Loop System
Pallets made from plastic, metal or composite materials are a long-lasting alternative to
wooden pallets. All three materials are durable, reusable, easy to clean, and recyclable.
Despite higher initial costs, these pallets save money in the long run. According to the
Purdue University AGVS Research Group, the average life of these pallets is 100 trips,
where one trip is defined as five handlings. These pallets usually meet both USDA and
FDA standards for pharmaceutical, chemical, grocery and food processing operations
as they can be sanitized and steam cleaned. They also exhibit low breakage rates and
work well with automated material handling systems. Product damage is lowered, and
employee safety is increased when using these pallets because they
have no nails, staples or broken boards.
Plastic, composite, and metal pallets are best used in a closed
loop or slave system where shipping is restricted to moving
goods within or between specified plants and facilities. Closed loop
systems operate best under one or more of the following conditions: short distance
shipments, frequent deliveries to the same customer, delivery to a limited number of
customers and/ or delivering with company owned vehicles.
Plastic Pallets are created in three general forms. Plastic lumber pallets resemble the
wooden pallet with the exception that the boards are made from extruded plastic.
Structural foam and thermoformed pallets are distinctive in their style as they are one
solid piece of plastic. These pallets have no nails, screws, or staples, thus reducing
product damage and employee injuries. They often offer a grooved deck, a raised lip on
the outer edges, and hollow feet that provide nesting of pallets to save storage space.
Plastic pallet manufacturers are still trying to create a truly rackable structural foam or
thermoformed pallet. Heat and weight have proven a detriment to these types of pallets
because they bend under open racking conditions.
Composite pallets, as their name states, are made of two or more distinct materials.
Some are made from a combination of plastics while others are extrusions of sawdust,
wood shavings and recycled plastics. Composite pallets are fairly new to the pallet
industry. They have high loading capacities and racking ability like wooden pallets, but
are easily cleaned like plastic pallets.
Metal pallets generally are made of aluminum or stainless steel. They are most often
used as slave pallets, which do not leave a facility. Metal pallets are the strongest and
most durable pallets on the market. They usually are heavier than their wooden
counterparts and have a much higher initial cost. Metal pallets are most often used in a
manufacturing setting where a pallet is needed to withhold heavy racking weights, high
temperatures, the rigors of conveyor systems, and cleanliness standards set by the
FDA and USDA.
Corrugated Paperboard Pallets
Four percent of manufactured pallets are made from corrugated paper or pressed wood
composites. Reasons for using corrugated pallets include light weight, ease of disposal
(cardboard recycling), and strength. Some corrugated pallets boast static load
capacities as heavy as 30,000 pounds (at 70 F and 50 percent relative humidity).
Corrugated pallets are also able to meet the special dimensions and disposal needs for
shipping goods to Europe. Some European customers request corrugated pallets
because they can be recycled with corrugated boxes. For those interested in completing
the loop and buying recycled, corrugated pallets are typically manufactured from
There are drawbacks to corrugated pallets. First of all, they can be expensive, about $5
to $7 each, and are usually intended for one-way use. Corrugated pallets are not as
durable as wooden, plastic or metal pallets, and products often must be stacked in
specified ways for the pallet to hold the load. Furthermore, exposure to moisture will
damage corrugated pallets possibly causing pallet failure.
Investigate Pallet Management Systems
Standardize - use one type of pallet,
preferably 48" x 40"
Repair broken pallets
Use a third party management
system to lease pallets and repair
Standardizing pallet sizes promotes reuse and recycling. Work with vendors to supply
incoming materials on pallets your company can use to ship out its final products. A
change in pallet size may require modifications to racking, storage facilities, or product
orientation, but the savings may be well worth it. Using one standard size will reduce
pallet inventory needed and labor needed for sorting different pallet sizes. The Grocery
Manufacturers Association (GMA) style, 4-way, 48" x 40" pallet is the unofficial standard
size of the pallet industry. Because of its popularity, pallet recyclers may pay as much
as $2 for each used GMA pallet.
Adding new nails, metal brackets or replacing a broken board, can often
repair broken pallets. Dedicated pallet handlers can be trained to
provide minor or major repairs to broken pallets for a fraction of the cost
of buying new ones. If getting into the pallet repair business does not
appeal to you, then contact a local pallet repairer.
Pallet repair and pallet recycling are two words that are often incorrectly interchanged.
Companies who repair pallets are usually labeled pallet recyclers although their main
goal is to repair and rebuild pallets. Pallet repair is the restoration of broken pallets to
working condition. If pallets are not suitable for reuse or repair, then they can be
recycled. Recycling usually entails grinding the pallets to wood fiber for use as
landscape mulch, playground cushion/bedding, animal bedding, compost, soil
amendment, or biomass fuel. Many companies that offer pallet repair services are also
capable of pallet recycling. If the pallets you are looking to unload in an environmentally
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