International Packaging Regulations
Wooden pallets (also packing crates, drums etc.) dominate the worldwide market. Growing trees sustainably for pallet making is environmentally responsible. Wooden pallets get 8 trips on average before being repaired or broken up. The broken ones can form part of new pallets or be recycled into chipboard, biomass or garden mulch.
The International Plant Protection Committee (IPPC) has a regulation about the phytosanitary standard for wood packaging, known as ISPM15. The purpose of this is to restrict the spread of wood-borne pests such as Pine Wood Nematode and Asian Longhorn Beetle. These can be found in untreated packaging.
Anyone exporting to countries outside the EU should abide by ISPM15 and insist that their pallets and creates carry its unique stamp: although not all countries have adopted the standard, it is an increasing trend and the costs of a Customs rejection or local treatment of the packaging can be very severe.
Treatment can take the form of Heat Treatment (coded HT) or Fumigation by methyl bromide (MB): however MB has been banned in the EU since March 2010 so in practice, heat treatment is the method to choose.
However, life is rarely that simple and you should get professional help from your freight forwarders on what local regulations are at any given time. For example, Australia has brought in a requirement to treat a particular pest that means that UK exporters are recommended to get their pallets etc. kiln-dried to <20% moisture in addition to heat treatment, and add the KD code. And in Portugal, there is a nematode risk so exporters and importers are recommended to adopt ISPM15 for this country.
The advice to users of pallets is to use a Timber Packaging & Pallet Confederation (TIMCON) member, registered with the Forestry Commission.
Exempt from the regulation are manufactured wood by-products such as fibreboard (plywood), orientated strand board (OSB) and chipboard. Plastic and metal pallets are also exempt.
The heavier 4-way entry pallets are longer-lasting than simple 2-way ones: 4-way pallets are often supplied by rental/return networks such as Chep, whose blue-painted pallets may be seen all around Europe. They maintain the quality of recycled pallets and are often specified by end users.