- The U.S. plastic pallet market is dominated by standard grocery and automotive footprints
- Reuse is important! Reusable plastic pallet production leads expendable plastic pallets by a 4:1 ratio
- One-third of plastic pallets are manufactured from recycled resin
Research by Dorina Bugledits, until recently a graduate student at Virginia Tech, offers valuable insights into the U.S. plastic pallet market, providing glimpses into material usage, recycled content, sizes, and more. The research, which took place in 2018, investigated plastic pallet design characteristics and material usage. It additionally collected other information such as the percentage of recycled plastics used in plastic pallet manufacturing, the use of flame-retardant additives, and the types of strengthening reinforcements used in plastic pallets.
The project was sponsored by the Industrial Membership of the Center for Packaging and Unit Load Design, a group that includes www.packagingrevolution.net advertisers Litco International and ORBIS Corporation. Bugledits worked on the project as part of her M.S. thesis and was recently reported upon in the CPULD newsletter.
Bugledits sent an online survey to plastic pallet manufacturers, ending up with responses from 14 companies, resulting in a response rate of 54%. Some of the study highlights were as follows:
- respondents accounted for the production of almost 16 million plastic pallets annually
- 81% of pallets produced were multiple-use units
- the pallets were predominantly of the standard grocery industry size (48×40-inch) and automotive industry (48×45-inch) with 84% of pallet production one of those two sizes. The 48×40-inch plastic pallet accounted for 55.4% of production compared to 35% for wood pallets.
- just 7% of plastic pallets were custom sizes, versus 39% for wood pallets.
- high-pressure injection molding (63%) was the most popular production process. As Bugledits noted, the advantages of the high-pressure injection process are usually the faster cycle times and the lower pallet weight. However, the disadvantage of high-pressure injection molding is the cost of the tooling.
- 34% of plastic pallets were manufactured from recycled resin. Moving forward, the ability of the plastic pallet industry to utilize recycled resin will further reduce its carbon footprint.
- 68% of pallets were made with HDPE resin and 23% with PP.
- 20% of respondents were Underwriter Laboratories (UL) or Factory Mutual (FM) certified for flame retardancy. Reasons for the low percentage of fire-rated pallets were attributed to most modern warehouses having Early Suppression Fast Response (EFSR) sprinkler systems, as well as the high cost of certification. The study also noted that flame-retardant additives are known to weaken plastic pallet performance and increase pallet cost. As a result, fire-rated plastic pallets are typically only supplied when requested by the customer.
According to CPULD, a new survey format and framework have been designed to help researchers identify long term trends in the plastic pallet industry. It has been suggested that the “updated survey be conducted every five years, in collaboration with relevant associations and government agencies, in order to further explore the state of any potential market trends in the plastic pallet industry.”