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What is the Difference Between Euro Pallets and Standard UK Pallets?


The humble pallet is the backbone of logistics and international trade – often quite literally. These deceptively simple structures provide the foundations for a load or shipment. Multiple items can be stacked, wrapped, boxed, or secured on the pallet, turning them into a load that can be treated as a single consignment and easily handled by mechanical means. Common estimates are that it takes just 10% of the time to handle a palletised load as it would to do the same task if the consignment wasn’t on a pallet. 

A key part of the pallet’s dominance and usefulness is that it is standardised, so handling and storage systems for pallets can be easily mechanised and mass-produced. But pallets are, in fact, not quite standardised. There isn’t a single, universal type of pallet with identical dimensions that is used all over the world. There are actually several standards for pallets, resulting in similar but different designs and sizes of pallets.

The Main Difference Between Euro and UK Pallets

Euro Pallets are 800mm x 1200mm, slightly smaller than the Standard Pallet at 1000mm x 1200mm.

Euro Pallets vs UK Pallets – Why Are They Different?

A Quick History

The idea of mounting loads on wooden planks or platforms to make them easier to move is a very ancient one – there is evidence of wooden skids being used over 3000 years ago in the Middle East.

By the end of the 19th century, wooden pallets were frequently seen in logistical operations around the world. They were especially common on railways, where goods often had to be loaded and unloaded several times during a long journey. However, there was no standard design, and pallets were usually constructed from available wood to fit individual loads.

Standard pallet sizes had to wait for the invention of the forklift truck. The first forklifts were developed in the 1920s, partly to account for the shortage of manual labour in warehouses following the First World War, and the development of pallets and forklifts went into lockstep from there.

Different industries began laying down standards for pallet sizes and designs in the late 1930s, and this was just in time for the pallet to come of age in the Second World War. The scale of the logistical operations needed by the Allied forces in that conflict – millions of tons of goods and supplies of all sorts shipped around the world – led to the widespread adoption of standard pallet sizes by the American military and forklift trucks to handle them.

The Birth of Euro Pallet Dimensions in the UK

The modern palletised logistics revolution started in Sweden. Having been neutral during the conflict, the country enjoyed a post-war trade boom as pent-up demand for imports was satisfied and Swedish exports were in strong demand as other countries rebuilt their economies.

The owners of a warehouse in the port of Helsingborg purchased a US Army surplus forklift to speed up their shipment handling but could not find enough pallets to use with it. They contracted a local carpenter and crate maker to make more. Soon, one of the warehouse’s largest customers, the Swedish Consumer Co-Operatives Federation, adopted the pallet as a standard for easier shipments between members and suppliers.

From there, the new pallet quickly spread throughout Swedish business, and a national standard was agreed upon between businesses, forklift makers, and the Swedish railways to use an 800x1200mm pallet. This resulted in a pallet that could carry a decent volume while being narrow enough to fit through the narrow doorways of the many Swedish businesses, sheds, and warehouses built long before mechanisation. Unlike the broader American pallet, it could also fit in a typical European railway wagon with enough room to the sides for workmen to get in to check labels, secure lashings and so on.

In 1961, the Swedish pallet was adopted as a standard by the International Union of Railways, and the Euro Pallet was born.

Why is the Standard Pallet Different?

The International Standards Organisation defined standard pallets in 1961 – the same year the Euro pallet was standardised on international railways – and by then, various regional standards were in place, with Britain, America and Canada having different official standards. The British Standard pallet was a square design, 1200mm x 1200mm and designed for heavy industrial or agricultural loads. Many Asian countries used an unofficial but common standard pallet size of 1000mm x 1200mm. Because it was used across the widest geographic range and was close enough in size to be generally compatible with both Euro and American transport equipment, the ISO adopted 1000mm x 1200mm as its global standard while also codifying Euro and American pallets (also known as GMA pallets after the Grocery Manufacturers Association that first defined them).

This was before the UK became a member of what would become the European Union, and the Euro pallet was still something of a rarity on these shores. But in the 1960s, more and more businesses turned to pallets, and road haulage became an ever-more important part of the logistics industry. These newcomers to the world of pallets adopted the ISO 1000mm x 1200mm pallet in preference to either the Euro pallet or the old square British Standard pallet, which became a niche product still known as the ‘English pallet’ in many parts of the world.

Today, the Euro pallet is commonly seen and used in the UK, but that’s why the Standard Pallet is different in the UK from the default choice on the other side of the Channel. Here at INKA Pallets, we stock both Euro and UK Standard Pallets, allowing you to select the one that best suits your requirements.

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