Deal or no deal – keeping goods moving in the EU

Brexit has created many challenges for UK-based businesses, and these are likely to multiply if no trade-deal is reached by the end of the transition period. Companies will have to accept changes and be prepared to meet new regulations, not only when it comes to goods but also on the equipment used to transport it, such as pallets.

Currently, most products destined for the EU, leave the UK on wooden pallets that are not heat treated, but the treatment could become a mandatory requirement if no trade deal is agreed. As the UK industry is not set up to heat treat the millions of pallets currently used in EU trade , the move could result in pallet shortages, putting the movement of goods and the future of many businesses at risk. Fortunately, alternative options are available to help bridge the gap. Here, Adrian Dale, Managing Director, Polymer Logistics, discusses how forward-thinking logistics managers are already switching to plastic pallets to address the issue, improving efficiency, hygiene, and profitability in the process.

Wooden pallets have, for long, been a staple in the logistics chain, mainly thanks to their wide availability and perceived low cost. The situation is likely to change, however, if the UK leaves the single market and customs union without a trade deal, and proceeds to trade under the World Trade Organisation’s (WTO) rules. Current EU requirements demand that as a non-EU country, the UK will need to comply with the ISPM15 regulation, which states that all solid-wood pallets, wooden boxes, and wood collars need to be heat-treated to ensure no quarantine pests are transported within the wood. Meeting this new requirement could be a challenge. Although some manufacturers have started to take steps to address this, the UK industry currently lacks the equipment and facilities required to heat treat large quantities of wooden pallets, as there has not been a high demand for such treatment previously. Yet, as the EU is the UK’s largest trade partner, the failure to comply with the regulation could have a devastating effect on individual businesses as well as the economy.

This is where using plastic pallets can prove a game-changer. The ISPM15 regulation relates to solid-wood pallets, as they may possibly carry pests. Plastic pallets, such as Polymer Logistics’ Cleanpal, on the other hand, do not need any additional treatment to be cleared for export to EU countries. Plastic does not harbour pests, and unlike wood, the plastic used in pallets is non-permeable. This makes them more hygienic by design, as they don’t absorb moisture that would support the growth of microflora – a problem commonly associated with wooden pallets and a key challenge when complying with the strict hygiene regulations associated with many food industry applications. Once the wood pallets become contaminated with debris or wood substrate, they are difficult to clean adequately, which increases the risk of potential pathogens remaining on the surface and can lead to cross-contamination. In industries where hygiene is paramount, any contamination incidents can have a long-lasting damaging effect on reputation and profitability. Plastic pallets are easy to clean and to keep hygienic, helping minimise the risk of cross-contamination. In a study, Cleanpal plastic pallets showed a significantly lower number of bacteria, yeast, and moulds compared to wooden pallets .

In addition to being outside the scope of ISPM15 regulation, plastic pallets offer a range of benefits compared to the traditional wooden ones. Their weight alone is a crucial advantage. A wooden pallet weighs approximately 25 kg when dry, and significantly more if allowed to get wet, whereas a plastic pallet such as Cleanpal only weighs 15kg. While a standard wooden pallet takes two people to move, a Cleanpal one can be safely lifted by just one person, improving productivity, and enabling workers to contribute to other tasks, instead of doubling up on a single job. It is also essential to bear in mind that the weight of the pallets adds to the cost of transportation. Heavier pallets translate to higher fuel consumption and lost freight capacity – key considerations for businesses looking to streamline operation and control costs.

Even beyond transport, plastic pallets can help businesses protect their supply chain against the various inefficiencies that stem from the use of wooden pallets. A good example is the way pallets are stacked. Nestable plastic pallets, such as Cleanpal, save valuable space during storage and transport. Therefore, it is possible to transport three times as many empty nested Cleanpal pallets in a single lorry load compared to wooden ones. The process is also safer, as the pallets lock together as a single unit, eliminating the risk of pallets sliding off a stack during movement and putting people or stock at risk. Additionally, the time spent moving pallets is also reduced by the more efficient stacking, leaving forklifts to transfer just a third of the number of similarly stacked wooden pallets. This helps optimise time spent on forklift operation and reduces warehouse traffic, cutting emissions and improving safety.

As the above examples highlight, in many applications, plastic pallets offer several benefits compared to timber ones. By introducing them into the logistics chain early on, businesses can help minimise any disruption to the transport of goods, regardless of the outcome of the trade deal negotiations. Now is the time to focus on future-proofing operations and taking all the necessary steps to prepare for the most seamless trade relationship with the EU as possible. That is why it is vital to ensure that the logistics chain, including the pallets used in the transportation of goods, continue to contribute to successful operation, instead of compromising it.

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