Plastic fruit pallets made from recycled plastic have “progressed beyond our wildest dreams.”

PalletPlast’s fruit pallets made from waste plastic were awarded the best new end-use product by Petco (a South African plastics industry body promoting the recycling of polyethylene terephthalate or PET).

According to managing director Christopher Smith, their plastic pallets are all the same size and stackable, making them easy to transport.

He points out that an interlink truck will normally accommodate about 720 of their pallets, lowering transportation costs.

Plastic pallets are increasingly being used in the fruit export industry for a variety of reasons, the most important of which is the cost and availability of timber, according to him.

“At the moment, the use of white block pallet in the fruit sector costs around R140,00 [8,000 euros] ex works, while the cheapest plastic pallet you can buy (similar to ours) costs R220,00 [12,700 euros]. Plastic pallets, on the other hand, do not require phytosanitary certificates, which distinguishes them from timber pallets.”

He points out that while pallet buyers are not in a panic, they are well aware of the challenges ahead and are taking measures to prepare.

“To our most wild dreams the increase in the plastic pallet industry has grown. We’ve been able to recycle some of the most difficult materials in the PET industry, such as barrier layer materials, darker materials, and materials that don’t come from bottles, mainly vacuumform and thermaform products.”

Retailers should begin rewarding exporters who use recycled plastic pallets, he suggests.

Clients’ plastic waste is collected and put on their own pallets. “When we use our clients’ waste streams destined for the landfill to create their own pallets, we have the most successful relationships.” In most cases, it’s a very rewarding scenario because it solves problems while also providing opportunities for manufacturing.”

With timber pallets, this form of circular economy is not feasible.

Although it’s nearly impossible to keep track of their pallets, considering that South Africa’s fruit exports are mostly to first-world countries with well-established recycling systems, they expect the pallets to be recycled with the rest of their packaging waste (which is entirely possible).