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Collecting Pallets - Free and Low Cost Pallet Sources

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plenty o' pallets  Pallet heaven in Surrey. 090704-030
waferboard/CC/Flickr

Thinking about where to get free pallets to start a home project (Read my article on 6 Things to Make with Pallets), or more steady sources of available used pallets to generate work as a pallet street vendor or a pallet recycling business? Scrap pallet recovery can range from small quantity pickups to full truckload retrieval. Pallet street vendors, commonly referred to as pallet pickers, may accumulate small quantities of pallets picked up on the curb or alley, while national pallet recycling companies such as IFCO Systems may provide national pallet removal services for larger companies, serving several locations across the country.

Where Can Scrap Pallets Be Found?

A good place to start is our article Five Great Places to Find Free or Low Cost Pallets. Additionally, scrap pallets, commonly known as pallet “cores” in the recycling business, can be found in a great variety of places where pallets are emptied, or where they are disposed. Some of these include:

  • Craigslist.org or other online or print ads offering free pallet removal
  • Retail outlets
  • Small businesses
  • Construction sites
  • Distribution centers
  • Institutions
  • Hotels and restaurants
  • Ports
  • Cruise ship terminals
  • Manufacturing or processing plants
  • Trucking terminals
  • Air freight forwarders
  • Landfills
  • Recycling companies

Free or Purchase, Few or Many?

Whether you pay for pallets or acquire them for free depends on numerous factors. You are more likely to acquire pallets for free from a smaller location that generates pallets only infrequently, or if the pallet sizes are not the most common and desirable.

For locations that generate truckload quantities of popular pallet sizes, such as 48x40” in the Americas, then recycling businesses are more likely to compete for the opportunity to purchase the pallet cores. As a result, many large generators of pallet cores have an expectation of being paid for them. You will soon get an idea of what prevailing market prices are for cores in your area, and these vary from region to region, depending upon supply and demand. The Recycle Record is a subscription-based market report that provides regional information about recycled pallet pricing. In addition to price, pallet recyclers may also compete for cores with respect to service. The pallet recycler may be required to drop empty trailers for the business to load as it generates empty pallets, or to provide smaller quantity pickup if the business does not have room or a dock door to facilitate storage of empty pallets inside or on a drop trailer.

Looking for Small Quantities of Pallets?

Where only small quantities are available, however, or where the pallets are not one of the popular sizes such as 48x40”, however, then pallets are more likely to be happily released at no charge to the collector. It should be cautioned, however, that pallets stored outside of a small business are not necessarily “free for the taking.” The pallet collector should receive permission from the business owner before removing pallets. For the hobbyist looking for scrap pallets, another source of free pallets may be at larger recyclers that do not practice wood grinding. Some of them are willing to release certain types or sizes of pallet that may not have value to them.

Why Are Pallet Markings Important to Understand?

Another consideration for the pallet collector is that of pallet markings. If the pallet has an ownership stamp on it, such as CHEP, PECO, iGPS, Coca-Cola, U.S. Postal Service or others, then these pallets should not be removed. Such companies vigorously enforce the property rights to their pallets, and you may find yourself charged with unlawful possession of them. For a discussion about pallet markings and what they mean, click here.

How to Gather and Handle Pallets

For picking up smaller pallet quantities, pallet street vendors may use flat bed or pickup trucks, and sometimes utility trailers. Useful additions include tie down straps or cargo nets. Be sure to practice pallet handling safety. Use gloves to protect hands from slivers, use proper lifting technique, including keeping the pallet close to the torso and back straight. Because pallets can often weigh 60 pounds or more, proper lifting technique should be employed, utilizing the help of other individuals or lift equipment such as forklifts where available. A power or manual pallet jack can help take some of the muscle out of moving pallets at a location.

Larger recyclers often purchase pallets from pallet street vendors who accumulate pallets from small businesses. Typically they drop these off at the recycler’s yard, sorting them into appropriate stacks after arrival. Many recycling businesses now take safeguards to prevent any concern about dealing in stolen pallets. As such, they may require a photocopy of the street vendor’s driver’s license, and pay by check.

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