Beyond boxes and pallets: 10 other ways to move freight

Guest editorial
Jerry Spelic

This article was published in the March 2020 edition of NTEA News.

When most people think of freight, what comes to mind is usually an image of the ubiquitous 40-inch by 48-inch wood pallet.

But there are many other ways to move freight, including these lesser known, but still important, methods.

Pallets are so important to freight shipping, we can’t not mention them here. In addition to wood, they can be made of plastic or metal. Plastic pallets are popular for export shipments because, as opposed to wood pallets, they don’t have to be heat-treated to be used for international shipping. Aluminum and stainless-steel pallets are strong and lightweight, and since they can be cleaned and sanitized, they can be used in food processing and pharmaceutical plants where cleanliness is essential.

Named after the company that first introduced them, Gaylords are pallet-sized corrugated boxes used for storage and shipping. Sometimes called pallet boxes, bulk boxes, skid boxes and pallet containers, Gaylords can have between two and five walls and are meant to be single-use. Frequently utilized as in-store displays as well as shipping containers, Gaylords can be used to ship items as diverse as watermelons, stuffed animals and pillows. Depending on configuration and number of walls, they can hold 500–5,000 pounds each.

Metal bins
Metal bins are typically made of steel and used in industrial applications where strong-sided containers are required to hold and move heavy and irregularly shaped items, like metal castings and forgings, stampings and scrap metal. Metal bins can be found in many different sizes and are essential in safely shipping heavy and potentially sharp objects.

Wire baskets
Available in solid or collapsible versions, wire baskets are strong and can store and move large and bulky items up to 6,000 pounds. Wire baskets are stackable and can be used for shipping nursery stock, landscaping rocks, and other irregularly shaped items. 

Stack racks
Featuring a flat, metal base and upright posts at the corners, stack racks are ideal for moving and storing large, bulky pieces. They can often be stacked on top of one another and are used for moving awkward items like furniture, carpets and rolls of fabric, tires and coiled plastic drainage tubing.

Bulk storage bags
Ideal for moving powders, grains and very small items, these durable woven plastic bags have lift straps attached to the top, which allow them to be filled, moved and emptied easily. Bulk storage bags are sometimes called big bags, super sacks or flexible intermediate bulk containers, and can be lined for food-grade applications like shipping flour and peanuts, industrial products like dry concrete mix, or bulk agricultural freight like catnip.

Wood crates
Shipping crates made of wood are sturdy, strong and can usually resist the sometimes-extreme conditions of freight shipping. Items shipped using wood crates can be as diverse as priceless artwork, sensitive machines like 3D printers, and large and irregularly-shaped plastic injection or blow molds. Other common uses are trade show exhibit shipments and when moving multiple slabs of natural stone.

IBC totes
Intermediate bulk containers, or IBC totes, are perfect for transporting liquids and granular materials, like chemicals, food products and hazardous materials. IBCs can hold up to 550 gallons, with 275 and 300 gallons being the most common sizes. IBCs are stackable and can be used for food-grade materials as well as corrosive or flammable industrial liquids and solvents.

Totes are small plastic containers commonly used in manufacturing and food processing facilities, as well as shipping, storage and fulfillment warehouses. Totes without lids are often utilized for order picking in warehouses, and are useful because they are durable, nestable and stackable. Totes with closeable lids are frequently used in shipping small products from distribution centers to stores, and included in shrink-wrapped pallets of boxes.

Storage drums come in three main types — fiber, plastic and metal — and can be used to store and ship liquids and solids. Fiber drums are lightweight and sturdy, and can hold food-grade and non-food-grade materials such as grains and dry chemicals. Plastic drums can hold liquids or solids and are corrosion-resistant, making them ideal containers for transporting industrial chemicals (they can also be food-grade and hold water, pickles or grape juice for winemaking). Metal drums are used for heavier liquids, such as oils, greases and lubricants, as well as extremely hazardous materials, since they are the most durable drums available.

Plastic and metal drums are offered in both open- and closed-head designs. Open-head drums have easily-removable covers and work well for shipping solid items or thicker liquids. Closed-head drums have non-removable covers with openings and are better suited for lower-viscosity liquids.

The most common size of fiber and metal drums is 55 gallons, while plastic drums are available in standard sizes of 15, 30 and 55 gallons.

Shipping granite, quartz and marble requires the use of wood or metal A-frames to hold and stabilize natural stone slabs when shipped. A-frames are mostly utilized on local or short hauls, and can be loaded in dry vans, or more commonly, on flatbeds for transport. There are many factors to consider when shipping stone, and working with an expert is recommended.

PartnerShip can help NTEA member companies save on inbound, outbound, small and large shipments through its NTEA Shipping Program, a free member benefit. To speak with a specialist or learn more, call 800-599-2902, email or visit