Where Have All My Pallets Gone?

One day you have so many unused pallets, you have to find a place to stack them all. Then, just when you need an empty pallet, you can’t find one. “Where have all my pallets gone?” you ask. Nobody knows.

Of all the forklift accessories, pallets are the most mistreated. They’re cheap, plentiful and easy to lose track of. You might:

  • Leave a few with a customer, intending to pick them up next time you make a delivery.
  • Use a few pallets for display purposes.
  • Leave some stacked outside and have them stolen.

There are innumerable ways to lose pallets. Unfortunately, we don’t tend to think of a lost pallet as a major concern, but in fact, lost pallets and other inexpensive reusable packaging products cost American businesses up to a billion dollars a year.

pallets stored outdoors

Pallets stored outdoors are easily stolen

If you use plastic pallets, don’t make the mistake of leaving them where thieves can get their hands on them. According to president of the Reusable Packaging Association Jerry Welcome as reported in DC Velocity, there is a thriving black market trade in stolen plastic pallets. No, they don’t resell them to other businesses. That would be too risky. They grind them down into pellet size and sell them plastic product manufacturers, usually overseas. The pellets can’t be traced or identified, so it’s the perfect crime — almost.

Between 2011 and 2013, a Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Plastic Industrial Taskforce made 74 arrests and shut down 30 plastic grinding operations in Los Angeles, recovering a whopping $7.4 million worth of plastic pallets in the process. Unfortunately, the taskforce ran out of funding, so who knows how many plastic pallets have been illegally “recycled” since 2013 in Los Angeles alone?

Don’t breathe a sigh of relief if you use wooden pallets. Wooden pallets are also stolen at alarming rates. CHEP, North America’s largest pallet pooler, has a team dedicated to pallet recovery in an effort to stem the tide of stolen wooden pallets.

The Supply Chain Black Hole

As alarming as the theft statistics are, experts believe far more pallets are lost in the supply chain than are stolen. When it happens, it seems as if they have been lost in a supply chain black hole, but according those who take the time to investigate, up to 80% of lost pallets can be found if owners simply follow the supply chain trail. Some do get damaged or lost, but in most cases, pallets left somewhere along the line are just returned at a much slower pace than they are delivered while a customer or associate waits until they have a full truckload to return rather than returning them piecemeal.

When you lend a neighbor something, you usually remember where it is and if they don’t return it when they’re finished with it, you call them and remind them to return it. It’s easy enough to keep a pallet accounting system and do the same thing. If lost pallets become an issue, you can discuss it with your trading partners and reach a satisfactory mutual agreement. If that’s not possible, you can start charging a small deposit for pallets. While the charge for each pallet will be minimal, it will be enough to discourage hording your pallets.

To prevent theft, never take your pallets for granted and leave them where thieves can get to them. A stack of pallets left out in the open is an open invitation to thieves and once they’re gone, you’re not likely to ever recover them.

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