The earliest containers were made of wood, but then mankind discovered metal. For a long time, metal pails were the only type you could get. They were strong, and they did their job just fine.
As always, innovation and technology seek to change and improve. In the latter half of the 20th century, steel and glass containers were no longer the only game in town. In 1967, plastic pails, also called poly pails, were introduced. They were popular (and continue to be) because they are durable and cost-effective.
Experimentation meant plastic pails became stronger and more flexible over time. They began to gain acceptance in industries that had previously used metal or glass containers. But it wasn’t always a comfortable ride for plastic.
A Brief History of the Plastic Shipping Pail
In the U.S.A, the budding plastic container industry faced challenges towards acceptance of plastic buckets over other types. The Food and Drug Administration had to approve their use for foodstuffs and pharmaceuticals, so plastics underwent rigorous testing.
Another seal of approval was needed from the United States Department of Transportation to allow plastic containers to be shipped by road and rail. Tests were conducted to prove their suitability.
One test had five-gallon plastic pails filled with water and sand loaded onto a truck and sent on a very rough ride from California to Washington DC. There was no breakage or leaks, so approval was granted. There was no stopping the rise of the plastic pail after that, and the five-gallon size has become one of the most familiar shipping containers in the world.
Advantages of Plastic Pails
Plastic buckets don’t corrode, and they are more likely to resist sun damage than metal ones. Their flexible nature means they are more resistant than metal to dents and impact damage.
How well does plastic stand up to shocks and impact? The School of Packaging at Michigan State University conducted this analysis of shocks to packages and pails in a shipping environment.
Plastic pails are lightweight, which will assist in keeping shipping costs down. This can also help the environment by reducing the amount of fuel used to transport them. They can be used to transport many different things such as oils, paints, pet food, and hazardous materials, and they come in a range of sizes.
They are seamless because they are molded from one piece, which means no leaks in transportation or storage. They come in different approved designs for hazardous materials and for food. These designs fulfill UN/DOT and FDA regulations.
Plastic buckets come in a range of customized designs to provide the best performance for your needs, such as resistance to product permeation or compressive strength. They can also be surface treated to provide UV protection for your products.
Are There Any Advantages to Using Metal Pails?
There’s no getting away from the fact that metal is stronger than plastic. If bucket strength is important to you for your product, then metal is the material of choice. You can also choose several types of lining for metal pails to add a second layer of protection.
In a fire, plastic is going to melt. Metal pails can tolerate a great deal of heat, which is why they’re great for combustible materials. Stainless steel, for example, can withstand temperatures of more than 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit.
Metal pails are very versatile. They can be reused or recycled, and there is a well-established infrastructure for recycling. Steel buckets can withstand an immense amount of pressure and weight. The most pressurized five-gallon container you’re likely to see are propane tanks, which are built to withstand an immense 960psi!
There are also the emerging concerns over plastics seeping toxins like BPA, while metal pails don’t leach, and they don’t absorb odors from their contents. Plastics also get a bad rap over recyclability, while old steel is easily sent for scrap to be melted down and transformed into new steel.
Which One Is Best?
The best pail is the one that fits the job you want it for. Flammable and combustible products are probably best shipped or kept in metal pails, but plastics are lightweight and versatile for other products.
At some point in the future, science may well come up with a brand new material that combines the best qualities of metal and plastic for buckets, but until that time, you will have to choose one or the other. Whether metal or plastic, pails come in all sizes and types, and each has its own advantages. Hopefully, the pros and cons of each outlined here will help to make your choice easier.