Tag Archives: pallets

How to properly dispose of pallets

Pallets form a central part of the movement and storage of goods all over the world, but how do you properly dispose of pallets when they have done their job?

With many different types of pallets and accessories out there, many warehouses and delivery firms need to know how to dismantle a pallet, how to dispose of wooden pallets and how to recycle pallets – even plastic models and moulded wood ones.

So how do you do it?

How to dismantle a pallet

Pallets can be dismantled by pulling the individual wooden planks apart

Pallets can be dismantled by pulling the individual wooden planks apart (Image: Pinterest)

The first port of call to dismantle a pallet is to break the pallet down into their constituent wooden parts – leaving wood that can be reused in myriad ways, as we shall see.

How to take apart a pallet is both simple and specialised all at the same time. The first step is to use a crowbar to simply jimmy the nailed together planks apart, one by one, and then to knock out the support blocks with a hammer. Firstly, you need to prise off the top planks individually, then remove the bent nails from the support struts below. Then turn the pallet over and do the same for the other side.

This will leave you with a series of planks with spacer blocks on: these you simply pull apart again with the crowbar or you can knock them out with a hammer.

While the temptation is to use a crowbar or similar to prise the planks that make up the pallet apart, this can unfortunately damage the wood.

How to disassemble a pallet so that the wood can be largely reused – and there are several billion metres of wood used to make pallets worldwide every year; that’s a lot of wood – involves a special saw called a Sawzall tool. This is a handheld reciprocating saw that will reduce pallet deconstruction from 30 minutes or more to about 10 minutes.

Sawzall tool

A Sawzall reciprocating saw can make short work of dismantling a pallet (Image: Wikicommons)

The Sawzall can be used to cut through the nails that hold the spacing block and planks of the pallet together, cutting the pallet into its constituent parts quickly and easily. The nail remnants can then be knocked out with a hammer and a medium sized bradawl.

This leaves you with wood that is largely intact, bar a few small nail holes, which can then be reused or disposed of safely. Add a disclaimer – Just remember to be careful when using one of these saws, as the blade can be really sharp.

Where to dispose of wooden pallets

Can you take pallets to the dump? You can dispose of wooden pallets by taking them to the dump, However you need to check whether they are treated or untreated wood. Some pallets are heat treated to make sure they are free of biohazards and pests, while others dating from before 2010, may be to protect them still further. This was outlawed in the UK in 2010, so with very old pallets you may also need to check with your local authority as to whether they will accept these types of pallets with treated wood.

Untreated wooden pallets can be disposed of at the municipal dump, but it is better to look at how to recycle them – with many pallet companies actually prepared to take them away and, if only superficially damaged or in good nick, repair them and reuse them.

They can also be used for countless other things either whole or broken down into their constituent timber parts.

Moulded wooden pallets are a different matter. They are often made from recycled wood that has been finely-chipped then pressed into a mould.

Moulded wooden pallets can only be disassembled by crushing, but the pulp can be recycled

These kinds of pallets can be used many times over, but ultimately will get chipped and damaged. Once beyond their useful life these can be disposed of at your local waste recycling centre – they are untreated wood, so should pose no problem – or can be sent for recycling where they are crushed back into wood chip and pulp which eventually can find its way back into more pressed wooden pallets, paper, and other products.

Where to recycle pallets

One of the joys of wooden pallets is that they are eminently recyclable: pallets that are in good condition can be reused as pallets, or the wood reused to make things.

So where to recycle wood pallets? There are a number of pallet recycling companies that will come and take your pallets away and recondition them for reuse as pallets or as the raw materials to make new pallets and moulded pallets.

Plastic pallets, however, are a different kettle of fish altogether.

Plastic pallets and heavy duty plastic pallets

Plastic pallets and heavy duty plastic pallets are less straightforward to recycle

Are plastic pallets recyclable? Well, yes – but in a more specialised way. Unlike wooden pallets which have a life time of about 10 uses, plastic pallets can be in use for up to 10 years, so while more expensive and less straightforward to recycle, they are less frequently thrown anyway.

How are they recycled? Plastic pallets are made usually from copolymer polypropylene, or high-density polyethylene (HDPE) resin and can be recycled with similar plastics at specialist plastics recycling facilities.

Like all HDPE or co-polymer plastics they can be crushed, shredded and made into pellets, which are then used to make new plastic products – including new pallets. So, while wooden pallets may look more environmentally friendly, with their lovely, natural woodiness, plastic pallets can also be recycled or reused.

Conclusions

Pallets are really useful for shipping and storage, making anything effectively a standard size and so much easier to stack. However, eventually they do come to the end of their useful lives and need to be disposed of.

Street bench in Naples, Italy, made from wooden pallets

Street bench in Naples, Italy, made from wooden pallets (Image: Etan J. Tal, Wikipedia Commons)

Fortunately, both wooden and plastic pallets can be recycled. Wooden pallets perhaps have more ‘second life’ uses, being able to be turned into new pallets, other wooden goods, furniture, or even wood chips to make new moulded pallets.

Plastic pallets, on the other hand, need to be recycled through proper HDPE channels at a dedicated plastics recycling facility. However, they have a much longer life and, when recycled properly, are 100% reusable as plastic pellets that can be melted down and reformed into pretty much anything plastic.

And with literally billions of pallets in use worldwide at any one time, this has to be good news for the environment.

Want to know more about pallets?

For additional advice on pallets, read our Guide to Pallets or contact our team of Packaging Specialists on 0800 542 44 28 or visit www.rajapack.co.uk.

A guide to pallets

The unsung hero of international trade – there are more pallets in use across Europe than there are people – a lot more. In fact, at the last count (in 2015, it takes time) there were 3 billion pallets being used across the EU, four for each person living in the region.

What is a pallet

With such ubiquity, this essential warehouse equipment forms the backbone of bulk transportation and storage pretty much everywhere, but there is way more to them than meets the eye.

Mostly they are wooden, though some are plastic and they come in a range of sizes and styles: picking the right one for your needs is something that needs a bit of thought.

What is a pallet?

So, first and foremost, what is a pallet, in technical terms, a “flat transport structure, which supports goods in a stable fashion while being lifted by a forklift, a pallet jack, a front loader, a jacking device or an erect crane”.[i]

Sometimes, pallets are mistaken for skids – wooden runners put under bulky items to help move them, invented by the ancient Egyptians to build the pyramids – but they are very different as we shall see.

Who invented the pallet?

Who invented the pallet

George Raymond, inventor of the pallet (Image: Raymond Corp.)

While pallets may seem to be one of nature’s immutable certainties, probably dating back to the dawn of creation, the invention of the pallet is widely credited to one George Raymond – and his chum Bill House. Well, they filed a patent in the 1930s for a sort of sled-cum-pallet – more akin to wooden ‘skis’ that Raymond added cross slats to and made stackable.

Raymond’s patented pallet also featured a lower ‘deck’ that makes it resemble what we refer to today as pallets. This made them stackable and sturdier for transport on forklift trucks, themselves introduced in 1925 in the US.

What was notable about the Raymond-House ‘proto-pallet’ was that it was designed to be made out of cheap timber – with the view to cost-effectively replace the cornucopia of packaging solutions then in use: wooden crates, barrels, kegs and cardboard boxes.

This has made the pallet cheap enough to be so widespread. It has also meant that they can be reused repeatedly and eventually recycled – often ending up as fuel, paper pulp, or animal bedding.

How are pallets made?

Pallets are made, typically, of wood, however there are plastic ones as well, which we’ll come onto later. Of the wooden ones, many are made from actual timber, cut to size and often glued together with strong polyurethane adhesive or nails or staples.

However, some wooden pallets are moulded in high pressure presses from wood powder. These have the advantage that they are a single piece with no additional materials added for fixings. This makes them much easier to recycle at the end of their life, but they tend not to be as strong and are for smaller loads.

Standard moulded wood pallets

What are plastic pallets made from?

Plastic pallets are also moulded, and usually made from copolymer polypropylene, or high-density polyethylene (HDPE) resin and injection moulded; though more costly, but can be advantageous if you need to store things in a dry and bacteria-free environment. They are also great for chemical resistance, and suitable for use with most acids, chemicals and solvents.

Plastic pallets are tough, clean and chemically resistant

How big is a pallet?

Pallets come in all shapes and sizes – and made of different materials, depending on where they are being used and what they are being used for. But there are a set of standard sizes, designed to help uniformity of use in storage, shipping and of course lifting on standard sized forklifts.

So, what is the size of a standard pallet? Typically, in old money, 48×40, 42×42 and 48×48 inches. Square pallets are more stable when being lifted, but sometimes, depending on what is being stored or moved, they aren’t as suitable, so rectangular 48×40 pallets are used.

How big is a pallet

Side view, standard dimensions of a European standard pallet (Image: EPAL)

Here in the UK – and EU – of course pallets are metrically dimensioned, and come in standard sizes, measured in millimetres. Typically, these are 1200×800, 1200×1000 and for moulded wooden pallets can take between 350kg and 1250kg depending on their spec.

Dimensions of a pallet

Top view, standard dimensions of a European standard pallet (Image: EPAL)

Plastic pallets come in 600×800, 1200×800 and 1200×1000 and can take between 400 and 800kg dynamic load. Heavy duty plastic pallets are also available in 1200×800 and can take loads of over 800kg.

How heavy is a wooden pallet?

The weight of the pallet itself is also important to know – not least as it will have to be included in the export manifest details of the weight of what is being shipped. So how heavy is a wooden pallet?

A typical wooden stringer pallet sized 1200×1000 weighs around 15 to 22kgs. A pressed wooden pallet sized 1200×800 rated for 350kg load weighs in at 8.5kg; a 1200×1000 rated to 1250kg dynamic load comes in at 19kg. A heavy-duty plastic pallet that is 1200×800 will weigh about 8.6kg. [ii]

What type of wood are pallets made from?

So, let’s take a more detailed look at the type of wood are pallets made from, how the different kinds are made and how, if you’ll pardon the pun, they stack up.

What wood is used for pallets?

What would is used for pallets

The type of wood used for pallets vary, stringer pallets – those made from ‘strings’ of wood, as opposed to moulded wooden pallets – are typically made from a range of woods, depending on costs. Typically, they are a mixture of hard and soft woods, often oak for the load bearing parts as it is strong and southern yellow pine for the non-load bearing parts.

Often pallets are also made from plywood constructed of alternate layers of hard and soft woods. Both kinds of pallets also then need heat treating.

What is a heat-treated pallet?

A heat-treated pallet is one where the wood has been kiln dried and this is necessary to strengthen the wood by removing excess moisture, as well as to essentially sterilise it, killing off spores and bacteria that may live in the wood. This is vital for pallets being used for any form of export.

In fact, the heat-treatment of pallets is essential and is regulated under the International Phytosanitary Standard for Wood Packaging – ISPM15, currently adopted by 14 countries and the entire European Union.

Interestingly, pressed wooden and plastic pallets – both of which are heated during their pressing – are exempt. As is sawdust and barrels.

To meet the standard of ISPM15, pallets and pallet wood needs to be heated to a minimum temperature of 56 °C for a minimum duration of 30 continuous minutes throughout the entire profile of the wood (including at its core).

Various energy sources or processes may be suitable to achieve these parameters. For example, kiln-drying, heat-enabled chemical pressure impregnation, microwave or other treatments may all be considered heat treatments provided that they meet the heat treatment parameters specified in this standard.

How long do heat treated pallets last?

A heat-treated pallet is designed to have a long life, not just free from pests and decay, but also hardened by the heat treating process. As to how long a pallet lasts all depends on how you use it. Treated kindly they can last for up to 10 years in their primary function. Recycled into furniture and other domestic products can see this doubled or even tripled.

Are pallets also chemically treated?

As well as being heat treated, pallets are often also chemically treated to protect them from insects, mould and decay. Typically, wooden pallets are treated with methyl bromide, a toxic pesticide to protect them still further.

What accessories do you need with pallets?

Pallets on their own aren’t enough to cover all your shipping needs. You will also need all manner of pallet accessories to make the pallet system work. Cardboard pallet caps and trays are essential for protecting your products when on the pallet, as are cardboard divider sheets, and general purpose edge protectors.

It also a good idea to ‘top’ your pallet stack with waterproof sheeting in case it is outside at any point in its transport, as are tear-off pallet covers on a roll, for that extra protection.

To move stacks of pallets around you will also need dollies that essentially puts the pallet on wheels or even a self-propelled stacker. Either way, there is plenty of equipment available to make palletising the go to option for storage and shipping.

Conclusion

There are many pallets and accessories available, be they wooden stringer pallets as invented back in the 1930s by George Raymond, who built on the ancient Egyptian idea of the skid, or pressed wooden pallets or even plastic pallets that can handle tough environments, chemicals and more.

With literally billions of pallets in circulation around the world, it is easy to take them for granted and never truly see how useful they are, but hopefully we’ve given you some insight into how there is much more to the humble pallet than you thought – and that there are myriad ways they can be used.

[i] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pallet

[ii] https://associated-pallets.co.uk/product-category/used-wooden-pallets/uk-standard-pallets-1200x1000mm/