December 4, 2023

So you want the truth? In my best “Jack” voice, “Are you sure you can you handle the truth?” Good, I’m glad we got that off our chests, because this is a topic, like so many, ultimately fueled by money. I ask you to keep an open mind, and let me start off being straight regarding my point of view as one of the owners of a pallet manufacturing company. Our company has, for nearly 30 years now, dealt almost exclusively with wooden pallets. Only recently have we worked on a very small scale with plastic pallets.

My brother and I are accustomed to pondering over plastic vs. wood pallets like most people ponder over paper or plastic bags in line at your grocery store. Which one is better? Which one is “greener?” Which one is the future? After spending several hours of every week focused on coming up with the strategy of our company’s path forward in an ever-challenging marketplace, the answers to the question of which one is better, plastic or wood pallets, crates, dunnage, still deserve serious consideration to say the least. You may be surprised about the conclusions that have been reached regarding these materials used in packaging for several decades now. Decide for yourselves! We certainly have – hey, what did you expect, we’re in the business of pallets.

When it comes to making a decision on which is better for your organization – plastic vs. wood packaging – there are important categories that invoke specific questions. The big four are always:

1) Fire Safety
2) Sustainability
3) Strength/Flexibility/Practicality
4) Cost/Price

Let’s take these on one shall we?

1. Fire Safety

This has been in the news some lately as there has been some back and forth between supporters on both sides of the issue, and of course the fire marshals are caught in the middle along with not just pallet companies but also all the companies around the world that store large amounts of packaging in warehouses. One’s first reaction is typically that wood is flammable afterall we use it to start fires and stay warm in our homes, out camping, and even create pellets to use as fuel for wood-burning furnaces.

Surprisingly, the Arson Bureau of the New York State Fire and Prevention and Control conducted a nonscientific test to compare the burn rates of plastic and wood pallets. Their findings indicated that “once ignited the plastic pallets burned both quicker and hotter than wooden pallets. Burning, dripping plastic from the plastic pallets pooled and burned on the floor under the pallets contributing to the growth of the fire. The sprinkler system was not effective in extinguishing this fire, necessitating use of a hand held 1 3/4 inch fire suppression line for final extinguishment.”

While a wooden pallet maintains a baseline National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) fire rating, a plastic pallet requires a one-class upgrade from the NFPA. If the plastic pallet is reinforced polypropylene or polyethylene it requires a two-class upgrade in comparison to a wooden pallet. This brings us to what’s been reported about lately in industry news.



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