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Avoid the threats of Heat Treating wooden Pallets – Go Plastic!

Following the recent announcement of the proposed extension of ISPM15 Wood Packaging Regulations to all Intra-Community movements of timber pallets and packaging in Europe, and the discovery of the pine wood nematode in both Portugal and Spain, asks whether the system for heat-treating timber pallets is flawed.

Jim Hardisty, Managing Director of, the UK’s leading independent supplier of plastic pallets, examines the potential threats of heat-treating wooden pallets and explains why now is a good time to consider further use of plastic pallets.

ISPM15 – The International Standards for Phytosanitary Measures were introduced to set a uniform standard to regulate the control and spread of forest pests, such as the Asian long-horn beetle and the pine wood nematode, and timber diseases. The Standard states that all timber must be heat-treated to a core temperature of 56 degrees celsius for no less than 30 minutes or fumigated with Methyl Bromide. All treated wood packaging material (WPM) must also be stamped and branded with the ISPM15 mark, which shows the country of production, a unique producer code, the code for the treatment used (HT for heat-treated or MB for Methyl Bromide), and must be accompanied by a certificate to authenticate the treatment.

The pallet shown to the left is one amongst a large stack of recycled wooden pallets a large proportion of which are stamped.

At face value this pallet is stamped and appears to comply with the ISPM15, but the stamp shows that the pallet was heat treated in Austria, and without a certificate, the pallet does not comply with the requirements.


The stamp indicates the country where the pallet was treated, the registered organisation that carried out the treatment, and the treatment method used.

Although ISPM15 regulations do not currently apply to goods travelling internally between countries in the EU, the recent discovery of the pine wood nematode in Portugal and Spain has called for emergency measures to be introduced to curb the spread of the disease and has lead the European Commission to consider extending the use of ISPM15 to regulate WPM used in all intra-Community trade.

In the case of Portugal, that nation’s authorities confirmed in May that they do not have sufficient heat treatment capacity to deal with untreated imported WPM, which is a concern in itself. Although the Forestry Commission carries out spot checks on wood shipped from Portugal, there is still a chance that untreated Portuguese WPM could slip through the net.

On a more global scale, however, it might not just be newly heat-treated debarked timber pallets that give cause for concern but also repaired wooden pallets. According to ISPM15 regulations, repaired WPM is classified as ‘wood packaging material that has had up to approximately one third of its components removed or replaced.’ This can include minor damage caused by scuffing and blemishing in transit or more serious damage as a result of decay.

Currently, National Plant Protection Organisations (NPPOs) of exporting and importing countries must ensure that when marked wood packaging material is repaired, only wood treated in accordance with ISPM15 is used for the repair and each added component is individually marked in accordance with the standard.

Worryingly, according to the Timber Packaging and Pallet Confederation (TIMCON) only 841 companies in the UK are members of the UK Wood Packaging Material Marking Programme and have been assessed by the Forestry Commission to provide ISPM15 compliant products. When you compare this figure to the volume of timber pallets in circulation in the UK (~45 Million) the likelihood of every damaged wooden pallet being repaired by an ISPM15 compliant supplier is small.

Of equal concern is the lack of restrictions on the volume of repairs permitted for WPM. If repaired more than once, wood packaging is permitted to bear multiple marks. This could create serious problems in determining the origin of wooden pallets and other WPM if pests are found associated with it.

Allegedly, heat-treated debarked wooden pallets last for life. When it comes to repaired timber pallets however, this may not be the case.

Getting caught up in the problems over ISPM15 regulations can be a costly hassle for exporters but can be avoided completely by opting for plastic pallets. With shipping costs running at well over £100 per 1,000kg pallet, it makes sense to invest an extra £2 or £3 per pallet – often a tiny fraction of the value of the goods being exported – and choose the plastic option.

A new generation of plastic pallets has recently been developed, which are light weight, low-cost and ideal for export or any one-way trip. The pallets offer the full range of benefits provided by all plastic pallets, including safer handling without nails or splinters, improved hygiene, water-resistance, no mould or dust contamination issues, and – as plastic pallets are moulded using a high-tech manufacturing process – each pallet is produced consistently and accurately and carries a stated load capacity. Most importantly, plastic pallets can bring UK companies long-term cost-savings when exporting goods as they are 100% pest-free and exempt from ISPM15 regulations.