Dufaylite cardboard pallets
Stacked shipping containers

Can Cardboard Really Make Suitable Pallets?


Cardboard has certainly had its share of surprising innovations, from boxes to signs, but can it also replace demanding heavy duty things like shipping pallets?

Technically, no. Cardboard can’t, but our honeycomb core board certainly does. But this isn’t the moment in the game show where we jump out from behind a false wall yelling “prank!” — there are real differences between cardboard & honeycomb board.

Let’s look at why honeycomb board is such an amazing technology.

Differences between Honeycomb Core & Cardboard

Honeycomb core and cardboard are both made of paper – so they’re both easily biodegradable and environmentally friendly. But the real difference lies in their strength. If you’ve ever looked at the edge of cardboard, you’ll have seen that it’s made by laminating two flat sheets over a zig-zag core.

There are, of course, variations in the manufacturing of cardboard – different manufacturers create different layers, folds, reinforcements, and so on – but the basic design is the same. The key benefit here is that it holds its strength along the edge of the board and easily folds for packdown. Which works well for things like delivery boxes or moving boxes: use-cases that prioritise easy storage and single use.

But this benefit is also its biggest weakness.

Cardboard can’t compress

The benefit of being able to fold it up and store in a small area also means that cardboard isn’t very compressible – if you put any pressure on its face, it folds along one of the zigs or zags and slumps. This is precisely the opposite of what you need for shipping pallets.

A solution, then, would be to increase the mass of the cardboard, right? Keep adding layers to it, make it so dense that it won’t fold. This potentially works, but then you end up with a heavy, unwieldy mass that’s not much different from the wood you started with (only now much less weather-resistant and filled with glue).

Strength is in the pattern

The solution here is honeycomb core. It’s still a paper product, so you can’t leave it out in a rainstorm, but it offers an excellent trade-off between strength and longevity.

The reasons to get away from wood-based pallets are usually that they’re heavy, expensive, and often need to be treated with toxic chemicals to deter pests & fungi.

Honeycomb core board gives you the strength in a much lighter way – and one that always remains 100% biodegradable, while still having the benefits of easy disassembly for storage.

Its strength is primarily on its face. You see, it turns out that bees are really clever – so we took a trick or two out of their book and used the honeycomb pattern to provide the necessary strength in a small fraction of the mass. We explain the full science behind the honeycomb shape in relation to our Ultra Board here, but the short version is that, by tesselating the hexagon, every possible weak point (a corner) is reinforced by the wall of another hexagon. The end result is a pattern that can withstand tonnes of force per square metre.

In other words, you get a pallet that’s as strong as a wood alternative but much lighter. Which isn’t only environmentally friendly because it’s biodegradable, but also saves a huge amount of fuel due to lower shipping weight.

Other uses of honeycomb core board for shipping

But we didn’t just stop there when it came to shipping solutions – why create an excellent pallet but keep the rest of the stack filled with plastic & wood? So, our clever bees set about developing fully customizable pallet edging and cornering, as well as effective layer pads that let you easily stack pallets with 30% less weight than other paper-based solutions.

Read more about our sustainable pallets here. Let’s talk about making the world a brighter place.

27 April 2023

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