Choosing the Best Pallet or Reusable Packaging Color

Things to think about when choosing pallet and reusable packaging color for your operations

NLP plastic pallet pool

File photo: Distinctively grey NLP plastic pallets.

The color of a pallet remains an important consideration for many pallet pools. Just ask CHEP or other pallet and reusable packaging pools around the world that utilize specific colors to promote better control of their assets.

While a variety of automatic identification strategies have emerged that can provide more information about a specific pallet or load, the color of a pallet or container remains an effective measure. In addition to assisting in control, pallet color can be an important component of other marketing or quality assurance initiatives. These considerations are discussed below.

Let’s start with the basics. When it comes to pallets and the use of color, our go-to expert is Hartson Poland of Nelson Company. “From a purely pragmatic point of view, certain companies use color to designate specific ingredients, products, even processes,” Hartson explains. “A yellow pallet, bin or box can be identified from the vantage point of the production office in the mezzanine. Try doing that with a barcode. And just from a branding and aesthetic point of view, color is as versatile as is fertile the imagination of the user.”

“Most companies will offer maybe one to three standard colors, some charging differently for different colors. For example, black is an inexpensive pigment, and many companies use that color for their base model. Black also covers a multitude of sins, black making it easy to add colored regrind or to add recycled content. Let’s say there might be an upcharge for blue or red from this same company, added charges not only reflecting the possible additional cost of the pigment but accounting for down machine time and lost product that is inevitable when making a color change. We have seen ‘blue’ often used to designate FDA accepted pallets, but this is not an industry standard, more of a convenient designation.”

“As for FDA designation, we know that there are certain pigments that are FDA certified, and if we know the pallet is to be used in food or pharma where the possibility of product contact exists, we steer companies to those colors that are appropriate.”

So why choose a specific color for your pallets?

The use of a specific pallet color can provide specific benefits, as well as hurdles. We start with the benefits:

Benefits

  • Pallets can be spotted at a considerable distance by asset managers when they are a specific color.
  • Likewise, color coding helps facilitate warehouse pallet audits, even in high rack location.
  • Color marking of pallets enables material handlers to easily sort different types of pallets and helps ensure that employees use the correct pallet for the correct shipment.
  • Pallet color coding can be indispensable in helping plant employees segregate one type of material from another, where certain materials or processes are associated with a specific color.
  • Color coding can be used to also reduce the risk of cross-contamination where some pallets or totes may be used for unhygienic applications.
  • And of course, pallet color selection can help in retail marketing and store esthetics initiatives. Think blue pallets for Pepsi, or red pallets for Coca-Cola, for example.

Disadvantages

  • Not all pigments are FDA approved.
  • Color coding may add extra cost to the pallet or container purchase.
  • The use of colored plastic is associated with using virgin resin. Recycled resin pallets are typically black, which is a consideration for buyers looking to use recycled resin.
  • When color coded assets are assigned for certain applications only, this may limit the utility of the asset to use for other applications, which may evolve over time. Flexibility may be lost.
  • There may be confusion if the same color is used by different pool pallets.

Which Color to Choose?

I remember being in the room when the color for PECO pallets was initially chosen in the mid-1990s. White was a possibility, definitely eye-catching, but would get dirty. We talked about things like visual impact, staying power in the face of UV and warehouse conditions, the colors of other pallet pools, and the issue of cost. Even though the first PECO pallet had yet to be built, the vision was to produce millions of them, and a few extra pennies in paint cost would add up.

Generally speaking, a number of considerations go into selecting a pallet color, including UV and scuff resistance, differentiation from other competing products, marketing and esthetic values, and last but not least, relative cost. Here are some of the pallet colors that one often sees in the field, depending upon the part of the world being considered. If you have others to add to this list, please let me know!

Canadian Pallet Council (defunct) – orange
CHEP – blue
PECO (North America) – red
U.S. Postal Service – orange stripe
Loscam (Australasia) – red, yellow and grey
IPP (Europe) – brick
Independent Pallet Pool (Canada) – purple
LPR (Europe) – red
Svenska Retursystem (Sweden) – grey
NLP (Norway) – grey
The Beer Store (Ontario) – green
Euro Pool System – green

The future of color markings is unclear as Auto-ID technologies such as RFID or IoT continue to find acceptance, and recycled plastic resin content becomes increasingly important. It seems likely that to the extent that Auto-ID technologies are fully integrated into a reusable pallet application, pallet color will be less important in the future than today, but for now, the choice of color for pallet pools remains an important tool for pool managers and pallet users alike.

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This article first appeared in 2017, with updates.

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