Whether for domestic or commercial purposes, knowing how to assess the quality of your pallets is essential.
Why? For starters, untreated pallets may be infested with pests and insects, which increases the risk of potentially dangerous, non-native species being introduced to Australia. Secondly, untreated pallets are not debarked, so their rough outer layer can cause injury to your hands.
Furthermore, pallets used for important and exporting must be treated in compliance with the International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC) standards. Failure to do so could cost your business in transport delays and potential fines.
Keep reading to learn how to determine the origin and quality of your pallets.
How and why pallets must be treated
Pallets are treated for a range of reasons.
Firstly, to kill off any harmful or nasty insects, pests, and plant products. But to also reduce the wood’s moisture content in order to prevent mould, fungi, and decay. As a result the treatment keeps the wood healthy and strong for longer.
Two of the most common ways to treat wooden pallets are: heating treating and methyl bromide treatment.
Heat treatment is the most safe, common, and effective way to treat wooden pallets.
How does it work? The pallets are heated – either by steam, kiln drying, or microwave – at a core temperature of 56°C to 60°C for at least 30 minutes. The excess heat is enough to kill all pests, insects, and larvae in the pallets.
Once complete, the pallets are stamped with the label ‘HT’ to signify the type of treatment used.
Methyl bromide pesticide
Methyl bromide is a form of pesticide designed to kill a range of pests and insects. Released as a gas, the pesticide covers all surfaces on the pallet and penetrates the wood inside to ensure total elimination.
Once complete, the pallets are stamped with the label ‘MB’ to signify the type of treatment.
Although effective, methyl bromide has been gradually phased out over the years. Since 2008 the IPPC has discouraged use of the product due to the health risks it poses to humans and its ozone-depleting properties.
On top of this, methyl bromide isn’t strong enough to penetrate wood thicker than 20 centimetres, so its use is quite limited.
Unfortunately, pallets treated with methyl bromide are still in circulation worldwide. For this reason, it’s important to keep an eye out for the labels and avoid use whenever possible.
Making sense of pallet labels
Clear labels make it easy to know what you’re using. And this couldn’t be truer for pallets.
The good news is, organisations like GS1 Australia have set the standard for pallet labelling, making it easy for handlers to quickly assess the quality of their pallets.
Below is a list of the most common codes used to label pallets, and what they mean:
- HT (Heat treated): Treated, suitable for import and export, and safe to use.
- *DB (Debarked): Untreated, not suitable for import and export, but safe for domestic use.
- EPAL (European Pallet Association Logo): Debarked and heat treated, safe to use.
- XX: Found on all pallets. A two letter country code clearly stating the country of origin.
- 000: Unique identification number assigned by the National Plant Protection Organisation (NPPO).
*Today’s modern wood pallets generally aren’t labelled with DB anymore, as modern heat treatment includes debarking as standard.
Unmarked pallets: To use or not to use?
An unmarked pallet can mean one of two things, either:
- It’s being used solely for domestic purposes, and does not require IPPC certification, or
- It’s being used for importing and exporting and does require IPPC certification, but somehow the pallet has been mistakenly left unlabelled.
Unfortunately, without labels, it’s near impossible to tell which scenario your pallets fall under. For this reason, it’s better to ‘err’ on the side of caution and only use pallets that are easy to identify.
What about coloured pallets?
Different pallet manufacturers often use different colours to give their products a unique look. For example, the company CHEP gives all their pallets a distinctive blue shade on the sides, along with their logo.
Other companies like The Pallet Exchange Company (PECO) colour their pallets red.
With this in mind, you might be wondering: Can I use coloured pallets? For domestic purposes, unfortunately not, as the pallet belongs to the manufacturer and must resume their usual supply chain in order to return to their intended destination.
If you do find a coloured pallet in the wild, contact the manufacturer directly for advice on how to safely return it.