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Containers and Pallets: Sizes and Types

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Goods can be shipped on wooden, plastic or metallic pallets or containers (20, 40 feet, side or top entry). The article reviews gross and net weights, types and carrying capacity of pallets and containers



  • INSIDE LENGTH: 5.895 m
  • INSIDE WIDTH: 2.350 m
  • INSIDE HEIGHT: 2.392 m
  • DOOR WIDTH: 2.340 m
  • DOOR HEIGHT: 2.292 m
  • CAPACITY: 33 m3
  • TARE WEIGHT: 2230 Kgs
  • MAX CARGO WEIGHT: 28230 Kgs

20 feet container


  • INSIDE LENGTH: 5.888 m
  • INSIDE WIDTH: 2.345 m
  • INSIDE HEIGHT: 2.315 m
  • DOOR WIDTH: 2.286 m
  • DOOR HEIGHT: 2.184 m
  • CAPACITY: 32 m3
  • TARE WEIGHT: 2250 Kgs
  • MAX CARGO WEIGHT: 30480 Kgs


  • INSIDE LENGTH: 5.698 m
  • INSIDE WIDTH: 2.230 m
  • INSIDE HEIGHT: 2.255 m
  • DOOR WIDTH: 0.000 m
  • DOOR HEIGHT: 0.000 m
  • CAPACITY: 0 m3
  • TARE WEIGHT: 2500 Kgs
  • MAX CARGO WEIGHT: 21500 Kgs


  • INSIDE LENGTH: 12.029 m
  • INSIDE WIDTH: 2.350 m
  • INSIDE HEIGHT: 2.392 m
  • DOOR WIDTH: 2.340 m
  • DOOR HEIGHT: 2.292 m
  • CAPACITY: 67 m3
  • TARE WEIGHT: 3780 Kgs
  • MAX CARGO WEIGHT: 26700 Kgs

40 feet container


  • INSIDE LENGTH: 12.024 m
  • INSIDE WIDTH: 2.350 m
  • INSIDE HEIGHT: 2.697 m
  • DOOR WIDTH: 2.340 m
  • DOOR HEIGHT: 2.597 m
  • CAPACITY: 76 m3
  • TARE WEIGHT: 4020 Kgs
  • MAX CARGO WEIGHT: 26460 Kgs


  • INSIDE LENGTH: 12.029 m
  • INSIDE WIDTH: 2.342 m
  • INSIDE HEIGHT: 2.326 m
  • DOOR WIDTH: 2.341 m
  • DOOR HEIGHT: 2.274 m
  • CAPACITY: 65 m3
  • TARE WEIGHT: 3810 Kgs
  • MAX CARGO WEIGHT: 26670 Kgs


  • INSIDE LENGTH: 11.832 m
  • INSIDE WIDTH: 2.228 m
  • INSIDE HEIGHT: 1.981 m
  • DOOR WIDTH: 0.000 m
  • DOOR HEIGHT: 0.000 m
  • CAPACITY: 0 m3
  • TARE WEIGHT: 4200 Kgs
  • MAX CARGO WEIGHT: 40800 Kgs


FCL stands for “Full Container Load”, whereas LCL means “Less Than Container Load”.

Full Container Load means that all goods in the container are listed on one single Bill of Lading (BL), and as such are owned by a single party.

It does not matter how full the container is (i.e. a shipper may book an FCL but occupy only a portion of it).

When an exporters books an FCL, the payment is based on the price of a full container regardless of the actual weight being shipped.

LCL cargos are used when an exporter doesn’t have enough goods to ship to fill one full container completely.

LCLs are managed by forwarders that book FCLs and stuff them with goods from different exporters (groupage shipment).

Each seller pays only the portion of the weight and of the space actually occupied by their goods, and the load is split by the shipper at arrival. Each seller has a separate bill of lading that can be negotiated separately.

The main differences between FCL and LCL are:

  • occupied space/weight (total or partial)
  • cost per kg (LCL are generally more expensive)
  • transit time (LCL may take longer time due to consolidation operations at departure and deconsolidation at arrival)


While most pallets are made of wood, other materials are used: plastic, metal, paper and cardboard and other recycled materials. An overview of these alternative types of pallets is given below.


Wooden pallets are the most common type. Typically, they consist of three or four stringers that support deck boards, on top of which the goods can be positioned.

The most used wood is waste lumber, which cannot be used for the construction of furniture.

Their standard size in the USA is 48″ x 40″. The key observations for this type of pallets are:

  • They are durable, cost-effective and environmentally friendly (the use of waste lumber doesn’t require the cut of additional trees)
  • Timber pallets can be reused and recycled many times
  • They can be equipped with saddles foam and protective supports, to increase the robustness
  • They are available in multiple grades as follows:
    • Grade #1A “Super” Heavy Duty Pallets: Hardwood construction, 5 bottom boards, for rackable pallets and one-way or return shipping
    • Grade A: hardwood/softwood mix, 5 bottom boards, repaired with plates (no stringer inserts), for rackable pallets, and one-way or return shipping
    • Grade B: hardwood/softwood mix, repaired with stringer inserts, for rackable pallets and one-way shipping


Paper pallets are also called “eco pallets.” They are made from corrugated fiberboard, partial wood decks or manufactured with laminated paperboard (generally with a composite honeycomb).

These pallets are generally non-returnable and are ideal for one-way transportation, even of high weight material (up to 1 ton).

Paper pallets continue to evolve, as new designs result in better performing paper pallets, and new water-resistant coatings help with moisture while not impeding recyclability.


  • Lighter and thinner than wood pallets (approx.  – 10 kilogram for standard size), resulting in more optimized shipping weight and charges
  • They can be disposed of or recycled (environment-friendly)
  • Meet IPPC requirements
  • Not subject to export and import restrictions applicable to wooden pallets
  • No fumigation or certification is required
  • Do not attract dust and are generally very clean
  • Can be manufactured to custom sizes to adapt to the available space on cargo
  • Do not need the use of nails, wood splinters, molds and fire retardants
  • Suited for clean room environments in medical, pharmaceutical and non-wet food applications. Free of contaminants, they comply with phytosanitary ISPM regulations governing export shipments without the need for additional treatment and replaces heat-treated pallets


  • Susceptible to moisture (unless an additional coating is added)
  • More expensive than ISPM-15 compliant wood pallets
  • Do not match the strength and the stiffness of comparable wooden pallets
  • Less durable than wooden pallets



  • Made out of recycled and recyclable plastic materials
  • Fully recyclable
  • Long lifespan
  • High handling safety as no nails (full plastic)
  • Adapt to any environment, from hot to cold
  • Low cost
  • Resistant to chemical materials
  • Not subject to bacterial contamination
  • High mechanical performance
  • ISPM 15 compliant
  • Easy to handle
  • Available in most global standards, including EUR and ISO
  • Built with anti-slip surface
  • Light but strong


  • Have to eliminated when unusable
  • Higher cost when compared to wooden pallets
  • Not suited for storage on shelves


Often have removable beams (can be used for firewood),

  • Resistant to fire and rust
  • Free from bugs, bacteria, and pests
  • Extreme long life
  • Comply with ISPM 15 international shipping
  • Lightweight but strong
  • The top surface can be fully loaded
  • Can be cleaned and recycled fully
  • Very common for chemical and food transport
  • Less expensive than plastic, more expensive than wooden
  • No repair and maintenance
  • Stronger than any other material
  • Sizes can be customized



Dimensions, in inches
(W x L)
Dimensions, in mm
(W x L)
48 × 40 1219 × 1016 Grocery and general goods
42 × 42 1067 × 1067 Telecommunications and Paint
48 × 48 1219 × 1219 Drums
40″× 48 1016 × 1219 Military and Cement
48 × 42 1219 × 1067 Chemicals and Beverage
40 × 40 1016 × 1016 Dairy
48 × 45 1219 × 1143 Automotive
44 × 44 1118 × 1118 Drums and Chemicals
36 × 36 914 × 914 Beverage
48 × 36 1219 × 914 Beverage, Shingles, and Packaged Paper
35 × 45.5 889 × 1156 Military 1/2 ISO Container
48 × 20 1219 × 508 Retail


Dimensions, in inches
(W x L)
Dimensions, in mm
(W x L)
EURO pallet
31.50 × 47.24 800 × 1,200 EUR 1
47.24 × 39.37 1,200 × 1,000 EUR 2
39.37 × 47.24 1,000 × 1,200 EUR 3
31.50 × 23.62 800 × 600 EUR 6


ISO Standard 6780 defines six types of Flat pallets, the following:

Dimensions, in inch (W × L) Dimensions, in mm (W x L) Most common in…
48.00 × 40.00 1219 x 1016 North America
39.37 × 47.24 1000 x 1200 Europe, Asia
44.88 × 44.88 1140 x 1140 Australia
42.00 × 42.00 1067 x 1067 North America, Europe, Asia
43.30 × 43.30 1100 x 1100 Asia
31.50 × 47.24 800 x 600 Europe


7 Responses

  1. It’s good to know that wooden pallets can be recycled many times and have multiple grades. My uncle needs to order a bulk of softwood pallets for his manufacturing company in the next couple of months. I’ll be sure to share this with him as he continues to look for the best deal on bulk pallets.

  2. Very useful post, I think the most important things is the titles make it the easier to read. Definitely all empty shipping containers need to get fumigated to get rid of potential pests. ISPM 15 stamp is mandatory for hardwood, softwood and all wood pieces present in the packaging. Armour Pest Control is a Dubai Municipality approved pest control company specialized in fumigation services for import and export containers, food storage and processing plants.

  3. I found it interesting when you mentioned that wood is the most common type of pallet. No matter what kind of pallet you have, it seems like it would be important to make sure that you don’t exceed the weight limit. Investing in some kind of industrial floor scale could be a good way to prevent a pallet’s weight limit from being exceeded.

  4. I do agree that when looking for shipping containers, we are encouraged to ensure we have the right sizes. By ensuring that we get the right size, we will ensure that we have ample space to fit our needs. I think I will look at the things I need to be stored before I have a shipping container rented.

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