To keep costs down, most plastic pallets for export are made of recycled composite materials. This also keeps the weight down. Some plastic export pallets weigh as little as 10 pounds, though most average about 15 pounds.
Rehrig’s RPX 4840 export pallet weighs 17 pounds and boasts a dynamic load rating of at least 2,500 pounds. The lightest Orbis export pallet weighs just 10 pounds, but some of its other models can support loads of 10,000 pounds. PDQ Plastics, Bayonne, NJ, offers models that weigh in at 13-23 pounds. All of them are made to Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) specifications, meaning that they have standard 48-inch-by-40-inch shipping platforms and offer four-way access by forklifts and hand trucks.
“The nature of the majority of applications requires that it be inexpensive enough to provide value to the supply chain even though it may only be used once,” explains Rehrig’s Koufelda. “Yet, at the same time, it must be substantial enough to provide the level of protection and convenience that any of a multitude of transport modes and conditions requires.”
“This impressive strength-to-weight ratio is important in the export market due to weight limitations on shipments,” says J.P. Michaud, sales manager of Rehrig’s Material Handling Business Group. “Some exporters who use 50-pound-plus wood pallets face the dilemma of weighing out before they cube out a shipping container. This means they reach the weight limit before they can fill the container with product. Using export pallets, they could ship about 700 more pounds of product per container.”
Plastic export pallets may also drive real savings for those that ship by air freight “because you’re charged by both weight and distance, and these are lighter in weight than wood,” he says.
Plastic export pallets, for the most part, are designed as one-way pallets. “It is not designed to stand up to daily abuse and multiple trips,” says Bill Bloch, manager of global logistics at Rehrig. But, there are exceptions to this rule.
“There probably are some short-distance loops within the USA where the export pallet could be used multiple times if the forklift operators use care and are properly trained,” he says.
“There are companies looking to get multiple uses from these pallets, especially those shipping lighter loads,” adds Koufelda. “If the shipper has the ability through its supply chain to get the pallets back, it is certainly possible to reuse this pallet.”
Hartson Poland, vice president and general manager of PDQ Plastics, agrees. “With export pallets, a certain amount of reuse will occur because it can be used by the receiver. Companies that are doing the exporting may pass on some of the costs to the receiver, knowing full well that he will be getting a reusable asset on his end. As the processes develop, you’re likely to start seeing more closed-loop systems between suppliers and shippers,” he says.
These pallets should not be confused with the plastic pallets that are widely used in the grocery industry as slave pallets within warehouses and in closed-loop systems. With some exceptions, most plastic export pallets are nestable, and therefore, cannot be supported by most warehouse racking systems.
The fact that they are nestable, while adding to the versatility of the pallets, also may be a detractor to their more widespread use. “With nestable plastic, because there is no bottom deck, you could have crushing issues,” says pallet expert Stewart Richardson, a Canadian sales representative for Shuert Industries, Detroit, and a pallet consultant with PACTS (Pallet and Container) Management Inc., based in Ontario, Canada. “A lot of shippers might buy a nestable pallet if it works with what they are shipping, for products that are light or do not have to be double-stacked. If they’re being double- or triple-stacked in a shipping container, they could work well, but you have to be mindful of the potential for products on the bottom of the stack to be crushed.”
As is always the case when discussing plastic pallets, there are many detractors who feel it is hard to justify the increased cost, especially for pallets that are most likely only going to be used once.