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19 years of ISPM15 and what the regulation means for the UK!

On 1st January 2021 it became a legal requirement for all wood packaging material moving in both directions between the UK and the EU to be correctly treated and marked to certify compliance to the International Standard for Phytosanitary Measures No 15.

Although a new post-Brexit rule for the UK, ISPM15 is by no means a new regulation; in fact, next year will mark 20 years since it was first introduced!

In this article we look back at the history of ISPM15, why it was introduced, the reasons why so many countries have implemented the regulation and what ISPM15 means for the UK.

What is ISPM15 and why was it introduced?

The International Standard for Phytosanitary Measures No 15 Guidelines for Regulating Wood Packaging Material in International Trade (2002) – often shortened to ISPM15 – is an international standard developed by the International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO).

But what does it do? If we break the name down, it becomes much clearer.

Phytosanitary are measures taken to help protect humans, animals and plants from contaminants, pests or diseases; and the number 15 refers to this being the 15th measure taken to do just that – provide the necessary protection.

ISPM15 is one of 24 International Standards for Phytosanitary Measures and this particular one is all about regulating wood packaging in international trade. The humble wooden pallet has been relied upon for many years to move goods to and from different countries, but like all products made from timber, wooden pallets are susceptible to pest contamination and harbouring other diseases.

ISPM15 was therefore introduced to reduce the risk of pests and diseases spreading through wood packaging used for international trade.

The standard advises on three approaches for eradicating pests and other contaminants: heat treatment, kiln drying and methyl bromide fumigation, and includes strict regulations on how each of these processes should be conducted.

Countries requiring ISPM15

With the recent addition of the UK (having just left the EU) there are now 49 different countries that require wood packaging entering their country to meet ISPM15 standards. India, Nigeria and the Philippines were among the first to implement the regulation; a full list of the 49 countries and when each country implemented ISPM15 can be found here.

Pest infestation incidents

Although the regulation has only recently become compulsory for wood packaging material moving between the UK and the EU, the EU has had its fair share of pest infestation incidents over the years.

The most recent incident we are aware of occurred in September last year, when pest infested wood packaging material sent from Portugal via Spain and France was intercepted by the Forestry Commission (FC). The FC sampled pallets from the Portuguese consignment following these reports and discovered the live pine wood nematode infestation. It is incidents like these that highlight the fragility of the wood supply chain.

What ISPM15 means for the UK

So, what does the introduction of ISPM15 mean for the UK?

Prior to January, the humble wooden pallet was a regular traveller – free to move between the UK and EU without restriction. But then came the Brexit trade agreement and along with it the introduction of ISPM15, which eradicated the free movement of wood packaging.

For suppliers of wood packaging material ISPM15 has become a major headache – and at a time when the industry is also suffering timber supply issues and continual price rises. All wooden pallets, crates and boxes moving in either direction between the UK and the EU must now be kiln-dried and heat-treated to at least 56OC for half an hour, then stamped to prove they meet ISPM15 standards.

The UK government has issued a stark warning, saying firms that fail to comply with the new rules could see their wood packaging rejected or destroyed at Britain’s borders, forcing hauliers to make alternative arrangements for transporting their halted goods.

Firms exporting from Britain to the EU face similar rules, as do exporters sending freight from mainland Britain into Northern Ireland, despite the UK waiving the restrictions in the opposite direction.

Although we have not yet heard of any goods on wooden pallets being seized at the borders, with no clear direction from the EU, countries have the freedom to choose whether or not to implement any given legislation. So, at any time, one EU country could just choose to implement ISPM15 – that’s a scary thought!

At we stock the largest range of plastic pallets for export – all completely exempt from ISPM15 requirements. Call our team of plastic pallet experts today on 01323 744057 or email us at