Buying Export Pallets – Focus on Plastic and Presswood

Export pallet buyers increasingly turn to the benefits of plastic and presswood pallets for international shipment.

Photo courtesy of PortMetroVancouver

Photo courtesy of PortMetroVancouver

While the market for export pallets continues to be dominated by heat treated wood units, one trend has been the growing interest in alternative materials, predominantly plastic, presswood and paper pallets. In a 2003 academic paper, the authors estimated that 90 percent of the export pallet market was comprised of solid wood pallets. Fast forward to the 2013 Modern Materials Handling pallet survey, and that percentage has clearly grown, with 18 percent of pallets used for export being identified as alternative material (non-timber) pallets. According to suppliers of altnerative material pallets, the reasons for this trend vary.

“Cabka has seen a large increase in volume across nearly every industry with the compelling reason to switch varying between each industry,” says Nathan Franck, director of sales and marketing for CABKA North America ( Overall, he states, the result in increased interest in plastic.

CPP 100 plastic pallet

The CPP-100 pallet from Cabka weighs only 12.5 pounds.

“They look for savings enjoyed through avoiding ISPM15 regulations, as well as sanitary improvements in food and pharmaceutical, improved efficiencies with automated systems, and freight savings due to lighter weight plastic pallets,” he comments.

“Plastic export pallets are quickly becoming the pallet of choice for international shipments,” agrees Dennis Kenward, Director of Sales and Marketing for Shuert Technologies ®,  manufacturer of the new lightweight Shuert ExAir Pallet. “With warehouses and logistic systems worldwide looking to achieve greater levels of material handling automation, plastic pallets offer a clear advantage over wood.” He notes that with consistent dimensions and weight, plastic export pallets are ideally suited for automated handling systems and can be fitted with RFID tags for easy tracking.

Based on a pallet designed and utilized for air mail, the new Shuert Ex-Air weighs just 10 pounds.

Based on a pallet designed and utilized for air mail, the new Shuert Ex-Air weighs just 10 pounds.

Additionally, Kenward points out, one-way plastic pallets are lighter in weight for reduced shipping costs, provide the durability required for international shipments, are reusable if desired, eliminate disposal costs, and retain a residual value greater than or equal to wood when recycled at the end of their useful life.

Many companies today have smarter buyers that include the total cost of shipping, including savings generated, versus the old method of solely viewing the upfront purchase costs of a pallet, Franck stresses. “When all factors are included, many times plastic can be very competitively priced to wood and may also include many “soft cost” advantages such as additional warehouse space savings, improved sustainability, reduction in labor, lower workman’s comp claims, a cleaner warehouse, and reduced product damage.

Nesting creates a space advantage for presswood and plastic pallets where a bottom deck is not required.

Nesting creates a space advantage for presswood and plastic pallets where a bottom deck is not required.

Selection of the right pallet vendor is also an important consideration. Gary Sharon, vice president of Litco International ( encourages buyers of export pallets to look for a pallet supplier that can offer  a quality product in a wide range sizes, materials, and prices, as well as with adequate capacity to serve the export market when overseas shipments rebound over current levels.

“At Litco, we believe in serving all sizes of customers,” adds Sharon. “Our new e-commerce site makes it easy to purchase small lots of pallets any time of day or night. Pallet buyers can also submit online, a short RFQ for large volume ( bulk) order prices. In addition to the standard 48×40″, we offer other popular sizes including the 48”x45”, a favorite of  automotive, as well as the 24”x 40” half size for small lot shipments and a 24”x20” quarter size for point of purchase displays.”

The company offers a range of export ready presswood, heat treated wooden, plastic and corrugated pallets. Litco is well-known in particular for its presswood pallets, which as engineered wood, are ISPM15 exempt, and typically compete with #1 heat treated wood pallets in price, almost always coming in lower than plastic or paper alternatives, Gary states, while offering superior stiffness.

Before you select pallets for export, take the time to consider factors mentioned in this article such as load and pallet weight, interface with material handling systems, size of order, sanitation, and others. Vendors, including those mentioned above, will help walk you through that analysis. Be sure to read Top 10 Export Palletization and Pallet Selection Tips.

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