Understanding the GMA and recycled pallet grades

Tyson Steffens explains the basics of the GMA 48×40-inch recycled pallet

Few things are more confusing to the novice than the recycled pallet market. There are a number of choices when it comes to the sort parameters of a GMA and virtually limitless options when it comes to remanufactured and combo pallets. On top of that, the nomenclature can change a bit from region to region. The use of different terms can compound the problem if you need to buy for multiple locations in different states.

Let’s start where most things ought to…at the beginning. In this article let’s look at the GMA.

Recycled A Pallets 48x40-inch

Here is a small stack of A Grade pallets. You’ll notice the absence of plugs or companions.

The most recognizable and widespread pallet in the market is the GMA style pallet, which has a length and width or footprint of 48×40-inch (stringers x decking) with notched stringers, seven boards on top and five boards on the bottom. The decking on top and bottom is generally 5/8-inch thick if dense hardwood and 11/16-inch if KD (kiln dried) pine. However, as folks have tried to cut cost they have purchased new GMA’s made with thinner decking, fewer boards and more narrow boards which have found their way into the recycled pallet material. Ok, now we know what the GMA is, so let’s discuss how recycled GMAs are specified.

The primary classification of recycled GMA’s is by Grade…A, B and sometimes C.

Grade A…No plugs (extra partial stringer) or companion stringers but might have plates. Looks a lot like a new pallet structurally but will be showing wear and discoloration as the wood ages and oxidizes.

Grade B…Contains plugs or companion stringers and will contain plates as needed. Now you see some stringer parts inserted to brace broken stringers, and as a result, the pallet is looking ‘patched up.’ Also, many of these pallets used to be A’s at one point, so they are older, more worn, with more discoloration.

Grade C…A pallet, with plugs or companion stringers (and sometimes companions for the companions) most likely plates, possibly bubble gum and plenty of hope to hold it together. It is a pallet that is so unimaginably ugly that even a pallet guy is embarrassed to try and sell it as a B Grade pallet.

Recycled B pallets 48x40-inch

Here is a stack of B Grade pallets. The top two pallets clearly have plugs inserted to assist the middle stringer. The pallets below most likely had plugs only visible from the other end.

If you are new to this, you need to know what a companion stringer, plug, and a plate are (I trust you are familiar with the adhesive properties of bubble gum and lack of efficacy supplied by hope in most circumstances). I won’t leave you hanging…

A plug, or companion stinger, is a piece of a stringer ( the vertical piece between the top and bottom deck), as short as 6 inches or as long as 48 inches, which is inserted into a pallet and nailed next to an existing stringer that has been cracked or broken. When done well and with care, this plug or companion can be a very effective and sound repair.

Pallet stringer plate

Here is a picture of a plate that has been installed.

Plates are rectangular metal pieces that are pressed into the side of a stringer over a crack, to stabilize the stringer and stop the crack from progressing.  Again, when done well on an appropriate crack, the plated area can actually be stronger than the original stringer.

Beyond sorting pallets according to the primary categories of A, B, or C (geez…I hope you don’t use C…) there are (or can be) further breakdowns within the classes.

Within the A Class there are often:

AAA, Premium or Club Grade:  This is an A Grade GMA that has often only been used once, all the components match because it has never had to be repaired, and is so fresh looking that many people would confuse it for a new pallet.  The lead boards on top and bottom are 5.5-inch, with seven 3.5-inch boards on the top interior and three 3.5-inch boards on the bottom interior.

AA or 1A:  This pallet is just like the Club Grade above except it no longer has that ‘new car’ smell.  This pallet  is structurally the same but just doesn’t look as fresh.  Some shops will use plates on these and some will not.

A or 2A:  This pallet is one step away from being a B Grade pallet.  It has no plugs or companion stringers, but beyond that, makes no promises.  The lead boards may or may not be 5.5-inch, there may or may not be five interior 3.5-inch boards on top.

Well, those are the basics of the recycled GMA…just enough to get you into some trouble!

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waterThe opinions stated above are those of the contributor and do not necessarily reflect the views of PackagingRevolution.net. To speak to Tyson and find out more about the  innovative wood pallet solutions offered by The Pallet Alliance, Inc., visit www.tpai.com.


This article first appeared in 2016.