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Forest Products Extension

Sterilization of wooden pallets

Recent outbreaks of exotic insects such as the Asian longhorned beetle and the emerald ash borer in the United State have heightened concern over the movement of pests between countries. One response has been the development of an international standard to ensure that wood packaging materials are free of harmful organisms. In 2002, the International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC) created ISPM 15, a standard covering the sterilization of wood packaging materials using heat treatment or methyl bromide fumigation.

ISPM 15 is about to be implemented by countries around the world. The European Union will begin enforcement of the standard on March 1, 2005. The United States will require treatment of imports starting September 15, 2005. China has announced its intention adopt the phytosanitation standard, although no date has been set.

The IPPC standard applies to hardwood pallets and Tennessee is a major producer of wooden pallets and pallet lumber. It is too soon to tell how much the new international standards will impact the industry in Tennessee ; however it is likely that the industry will need to add lumber treatment capacity, especially as more and more goods are moved around the world in the new global economy. Not all pallets will require treatment: Pallets used produced and used within the United States , and those exported to Canada , will be exempt from the standard.

Companies seeking to provide pallets treated in accordance with ISPM 15 must be registered and inspected by authorized certification agencies. As with lumber grading, sterilized wood must display a stamp that shows that it has been properly treated. The National Hardwood Lumber Association, based in Memphis , is an authorized heat treatment certification agency. The National Wooden Pallet & Container Association (NWPCA) directs methyl bromide fumigation accreditation. Currently, there are approximately 1500 accredited companies producing 0.5 billion board feet of heat treated or fumigated wood materials in the United States .

Producers estimate that sterilization treatments cost approximately $1.00 to $1.50 per pallet. Because of this added production expense, many companies have been reluctant to invest in heat-treating capacity until the regulations were implemented. The coming enforcement of the ISPM 15 standard will force many producers to commit to a phytosanitation program so that they can compete in the global marketplace. Despite the added costs of treatment, wood pallets will be cost competitive and, in most cases, Tennessee hardwood will continue to be a superior material for making pallets.

The Center for Unit Load Design at Virginia Tech does pallet research

Adam M. Taylor
Tennessee Forest Products Center
2506 Jacob Drive
Knoxville, Tennessee 37996

Phone: 865-946-1125
Fax: 865-946-1109

Adam Taylor's email