I began working with pallets when I was living in Canberra, Australia. I drove to the industrial area, where the big furniture and appliance shops were. Whereever I saw piles of pallets down driveways, I went in to the store and asked whether they were free for the taking. What I discovered is that on the whole, businesses CANNOT WAIT to get rid of them! I’ve had people approach me as I’m putting one in the car, offering to give me their pallets – and even deliver them to my house! But of course, don’t just take without asking. I have found out that some of the pallets (usually the hardwood ones, which are painted blue or red/maroon) have to be returned to the manufacturer as they repair and reuse them. Some businesses actually buy their pallets and aren’t keen to let them go for free. When I moved to the Sunshine Coast, Queensland, I discovered that pallets are more popular here. There seem to be more businesses making custom furniture, and more neighbours who happen to have DIY coffee tables and planter boxes. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t enough! One afternoon, I took a drive to my local industrial area and again asked around. Look what I found:
I discovered that it’s generally best to only approach the businesses where you’ve been able to scout around the side/back of the building and can see the pallets there. The places that I thought might have them, like pet stores, carpet places, and hardware stores, often didn’t. I presume this is because the company was big enough to have a contract with the pallet companies to have them returned for a refund/rebate. Places like tile and paving shops had them but because they batch orders and deliver to sites, they needed them. So to save time, stick to the places where you can see them stacked high or leaning up against the building. You’re basically looking for shops that have a high turnover, but are not big enough to be able to secure contracts with the pallet companies (places like Bunnings are too big). My list of best ‘hit’ places, from experience in two cities are:
- Tool shops
- Paint shops (although these may have paint spills on them)
- Auto shops
- Electrical & lighting shops
I also discovered that some stores put an advertisement on a free classifieds site like Gumtree when they accumulate too many pallets. I’ve learnt that this is really about timing; sometimes I’ve gone to stores that haven’t had any pallets purely because they’d placed an ad the week before and had been cleaned out. My advice here is, if you plan to build regularly, build a relationship with the store staff where you find the good quality pallets. They’ll be able to give you a call before placing the ad.