Plastic Pallets vs Wooden Pallets

Plastic Pallets vs Wooden Pallets
Published On:December 11, 2020 Revised On:August 28, 2023

Pallets are essential in logistics and supply chains. They facilitate seamless movement and storage, aiding the transit of goods across various modes. As supply chains interconnect, pallet material choice becomes vital, impacting costs, sustainability, durability, and compliance.

This article compares plastic and wooden pallets. Each type has strengths and weaknesses, affecting efficiency, product safety, and supply chain sustainability. Despite their shared purpose of supporting and transporting goods, differences in material, design, cost, and environmental impact create a distinct contrast.

Material Composition and Construction

Both plastic and wooden pallets undergo manufacturing processes contributing to their distinct characteristics. While plastic pallets are moulded using HDPE, wooden pallets rely on assembling wooden components.

Plastic Pallets: Plastic pallets are typically crafted from high-density polyethene (HDPE), a versatile and durable polymer known for its resistance to moisture, chemicals, and impacts. HDPE offers a favourable balance between weight and strength, making plastic pallets suitable for various applications.

These pallets often consist of injection-moulded or thermoformed components assembled to create a unified structure. The manufacturing process involves melting the HDPE material and moulding it into the desired pallet shape, resulting in a uniform and consistent product. Some plastic pallets incorporate additional reinforcements, such as metal bars or composite materials, to enhance load-bearing capabilities.

Wooden Pallets: Wooden pallets are typically crafted from softwood or hardwood, such as pine, oak, or maple. These natural materials are readily available and can be easily processed to form pallet components. To create a grid-like structure, constructing wooden pallets involves assembling various wooden boards, such as deck boards, stringers, and blocks.

Deckboards form the top surface, while stringers and blocks provide vertical support. Nails or screws are commonly used to fasten these components together. The construction methods vary depending on the design and load-bearing requirements, ranging from simple stringer pallets to more complex block pallets.

Strength and Durability

Plastic pallets offer uniform load-bearing capacity, impact resistance, and longer lifespan due to their material properties. Wooden pallets exhibit variability in load-bearing capabilities and are more susceptible to impacts and environmental factors, but with diligent maintenance, they can remain serviceable for a significant period.

Load-Bearing Capacity: Plastic pallets are engineered to provide consistent load-bearing capabilities due to their uniform construction. The manufacturing process allows for precise control over material distribution, resulting in pallets with predictable strength.

Wooden pallets, on the other hand, can exhibit variability in load-bearing capacity due to differences in wood quality and construction methods. While some hardwood pallets offer impressive load-bearing capabilities, softwood pallets may have limitations. Ultimately, the load-bearing capacity of each type depends on factors like design, material quality, and intended use.

Handling Impacts, Stacking, and Stresses: Plastic pallets tend to resist impacts and stress more than wooden pallets. The inherent properties of high-density polyethene make plastic pallets less prone to splintering, cracking, or breaking upon impact, which can help prevent product damage during handling and transport.

Moreover, plastic pallets often feature consistent dimensions and design elements, allowing for more reliable stacking and racking. Wooden pallets can vary in quality, and over time, exposure to moisture, chemicals, and rough handling can weaken their structural integrity, potentially leading to splintering or breakage. Inconsistent dimensions or design variations in wooden pallets might also affect stacking capabilities.

Expected Lifespan: The lifespan of plastic and wooden pallets depends on several factors, including the material’s resistance to environmental elements, handling conditions, and maintenance. Plastic pallets have an edge in terms of durability and longevity. They are less susceptible to moisture, insects, and chemical exposure, commonly contributing to wooden pallet degradation. A

well-maintained plastic pallet can endure years of use without significant deterioration. Wooden pallets require more careful maintenance to prevent wear and tear. They can be prone to rot, splintering, and damage from exposure to moisture, especially when used in humid or wet environments. However, with proper maintenance, including regular inspections and repairs, wooden pallets can also have a respectable lifespan.

Cost Considerations

Plastic and wooden pallets have distinct cost structures that encompass upfront expenditures and long-term expenses. Plastic pallets typically have a higher initial purchase price due to the manufacturing process and the cost of materials like high-density polyethene. Wooden pallets, in contrast, generally have a lower upfront cost due to the availability of wood as a raw material.

While plastic pallets require a higher upfront investment, their durability and longevity can lead to better value over time. On the other hand, wooden pallets offer a lower initial cost but might incur higher maintenance and replacement costs. The final decision should consider both short-term budget constraints and long-term operational efficiency and sustainability objectives.

Factors Affecting Cost

  • Initial Purchase Price: Wooden pallets tend to be more affordable upfront due to the lower cost of materials and simpler manufacturing processes. Plastic pallets have a higher initial investment but often offer better long-term value.
  • Maintenance: Plastic pallets usually require less maintenance than wooden pallets. They are resistant to moisture, insects, and chemicals, reducing the need for repairs and replacements. Wooden pallets may require more frequent repairs, refurbishing, and replacements, which can accumulate costs over time.
  • Lifespan: The longer lifespan of plastic pallets can offset their higher initial cost. Wooden pallets may need to be replaced more frequently due to wear and tear, reducing cost-effectiveness in the long run.
  • Product Protection: The durability of plastic pallets can help prevent product damage during transit, potentially reducing costs associated with damaged goods.
  • Environmental Impact: Wooden pallets might have disposal costs due to the need to comply with waste management and recycling regulations. Plastic pallets, while more durable, might face end-of-life disposal challenges due to recycling complexities.
  • Customization: Plastic pallets can be designed to meet specific industry or product requirements, but customization might come at an additional cost. Wooden pallets can also be customized, depending on the chosen design.

Environmental Impact

Plastic and wooden pallets have environmental implications that must be considered. Plastic pallets face challenges related to energy-intensive production, recycling complexities, and plastic waste issues. Wooden pallets offer biodegradability and the potential for responsible sourcing but can contribute to deforestation if not managed sustainably. The environmental impact of pallets underscores the importance of responsible material selection, recycling efforts, and sustainable practices throughout the supply chain.

Plastic Pallets: The environmental impact of plastic pallets revolves around their production, recyclability, and energy consumption. Plastic pallets are typically manufactured using energy-intensive processes, contributing to carbon emissions. Additionally, the production of plastics involves the extraction and refinement of fossil fuels, which raises concerns about resource depletion and greenhouse gas emissions.

Recyclability is a pivotal factor in assessing the environmental footprint of plastic pallets. Many plastic pallets, such as high-density polyethene (HDPE), are made from recyclable materials. Recycling plastic pallets can mitigate the demand for new raw materials and reduce waste. However, the recycling process for plastic pallets is not always straightforward due to the variety of plastic types and the potential for contamination.

Some plastic pallet manufacturers incorporate recycled plastics into their production processes, reducing the demand for new plastic production and diverting plastic waste from landfills. However, the quality and availability of recycled materials can influence the feasibility of this approach. Incorporating recycled content also needs to maintain the pallets’ desired strength and durability characteristics.

Wooden Pallets: Wooden pallets have better sustainability due to their biodegradability and renewability. When responsibly sourced, wood is a natural resource that can be replenished through reforestation efforts. However, the environmental impact of wooden pallets is not without concern. The demand for wood can sometimes contribute to deforestation, habitat destruction, and biodiversity loss. Irresponsible logging practices can exacerbate these issues.

Using certified sustainable wood and implementing responsible forest management practices are essential to mitigate the environmental impact of wooden pallets. Certification systems such as FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) ensure that wood is sourced from forests that are managed in an ecologically and socially responsible manner.

Key Considerations Between Wooden and Plastic Pallets

The decision between wooden and plastic pallets isn’t straightforward, as it hinges on several pivotal factors. The choice hinges on various variables, such as cargo type, industry, regulatory mandates, long-term financial considerations, and budget constraints.

Sanitation Standards and Hygiene: Plastic pallets are preferable for shipments that must adhere to stringent hygiene standards. Their easy-to-clean surfaces ensure that spills or contaminants won’t compromise subsequent shipments. Plastic’s impermeability prevents chemicals or food from infiltrating and tainting future cargo.

Shipping Costs Tied to Weight: Weight plays a crucial role in shipping expenses. Wooden pallets are heavier than their plastic counterparts. If shipping costs are weight-dependent, the weight differential becomes a vital consideration. Conventional wooden pallets tip the scales at 30-70 pounds, while plastic pallets can be as light as 3 pounds.

Weight of Shipped Goods: The weight of cargo dictates the suitable pallet choice. Plastic pallets can effectively handle weights of up to approximately 1,500 pounds. Contrastingly, wood pallets excel with heavier loads ranging between 1500 and 3500 pounds. Optimal pallet selection streamlines shipping and enhances stability, mitigating the need for additional packaging to safeguard valuable cargo.

Load Capacity Optimization: Exceeding a pallet’s recommended weight capacity, whether plastic or wood, risks premature deterioration and breakdown. Correctly matching goods to the appropriate pallet capacity minimizes the need for excessive reinforcements. This promotes stability during transit, reducing the likelihood of mishaps and damages.


The comparison between plastic and wooden pallets reveals a nuanced interplay of strengths, weaknesses, and environmental considerations that guide the choice between these essential logistics tools. Both pallet types share the fundamental purpose of supporting and transporting goods, yet their material composition, construction, strength, durability, costs, and environmental impact set them apart.

Stream Peak supplies plastic and wooden pallet types to meet various logistics needs. Our range ensures you find the right pallet for efficient cargo transportation and storage. If you require further information or pallet samples, don’t hesitate to arrange a consultation with our packaging engineers. We’re here to assist in evaluating your packaging needs.