The humble wooden pallet is one of the most indispensable components of the global economy. It's a simple fact that, without the existence of these rugged platforms, almost every consumer product in the world would either not be available or would cost a great deal more to purchase.
There are around 2.8 billion wooden pallets in use in Europe at any one time and a further 2 billion in circulation in the United States, a country in which around 80 per cent of all goods are transported using pallets at some point in their life cycle. The use of pallets, which were first introduced during the 1920s, has dramatically reduced the time it takes to load, unload and transfer shipments from days to just a few hours.
The beauty of the pallet is that it turns any product loaded onto it into a standard 'unit' with specific dimensions. This in turn allows shipping companies to maximise their use of space, regardless as to the goods being transported because pallets will have identical dimensions regardless of the load in question.
Pallets have become so central to the movement of goods that companies will even redesign their products to enable them to fit on pallets more efficiently, thereby reducing their shipping costs. When a Swedish furniture giant first introduced its "Bang" mug, just 864 were able to fit on a standard pallet. Two redesigns later, a standard pallet is now able to hold 2.204 Bang mugs, reducing the company's shipping costs by 60 percent.
In order to prevent the spread of a range of diseases and insect species, there are strict controls on the international shipping of high risk goods - such as plants and foodstuffs - from one country to another. Since they are made of wood, pallets have the potential to be a source of such contamination but the fact that so many are in use at any one time makes the checking of individual loads impossible.
In order to eliminate any risk, all pallets must comply with the International Standards For Phytosanitary Measures No. 15, usually known as ispm15. This means that the pallets must be made from wood that has had all of the bark removed and which has been fumigated with methyl bromide or subjected to heat treatment. Wherever there are wooden pallets for sale, they should be stamped and branded to show that they fully comply with ispm15.
Although alternative materials are used for certain specialist applications, wood remains by far the most popular material used in constructing pallets. Few, if any, trees are cut down specifically to create pallets. Instead, the wood used to manufacture them is a by-product of the timber industry, helping reduce the carbon footprint of the pallet business.
Dependable and cost-effective, a wooden pallet is typically used numerous times before it reaches the end of its life cycle. Once the structural integrity of a pallet can no longer be guaranteed, it is sent off to be recycled. At present, around 70 percent of all pallets are recycled in some way, a rate that is far higher than that for aluminium, plastic or even paper. Wooden pallets may end up as boiler fuel, animal bedding or may even be upcycled into designer furniture.
This article was written by Associated Pallets, one of the UK's leading manufacturers and distributors of wooden pallets, plastic pallets and pallet wraps.