What Are Heat-treated Pallets and When Should You Use Them?
Whether you are new to commercial shipping or have been in the business for decades, it’s important to have a solid understanding of heat-treated pallets, why they’re one of the most reliable and environmental options on the market, and when to use them. As a business owner, this will allow you to make informed decisions about which products you choose to use and how best to ship them.
At Challenger Pallet, we’re here to help. As the largest pallet producer in the Intermountain West, we’re happy to impart our decades of industry knowledge to help our consumers choose the most practical and dependable shipping methods. Heat-treated pallets are at the forefront of this recommendation, which we’ll break down for you today. Reach out to one of our offices located in Utah, Idaho, or Montana with any questions, or if you’re interested in seeing how we can help you with your commercial shipping needs.
Why Do I Need to Use a Heat-Treated Pallet?
To put it simply, if you are shipping internationally, you will need to use heat-treated wood pallets for export. The heat treatment eliminates the spread of pests and diseases commonly found in untreated wood.
The requirement to heat-treat wood packaging material complies with the guidelines established by the International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC).
Who is the IPPC?
The International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC) is an “international plant health treaty that aims to protect cultivated and wild plants by preventing the introduction and spread of pests.” The IPPC strives to protect global plant resources and promote safe trade.
The IPPC was created in 1988 by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), which falls under the United Nations. It is also recognized by the World Trade Organization (WTO).
Currently, 195 countries are members of the IPPC. If you are shipping anything to one of these countries using wood pallets, pallets must comply with ISPM 15, which provides the regulation of wood packaging material in international trade.
What is ISPM 15?
In 1993, the IPPC first introduced the Internal Standards for Phytosanitary Measures (ISPM). These are the set standards used to ensure global plant health.
As of April 2022, there are 46 adopted ISPMs. They aim to “protect sustainable agriculture and enhance global food security, protect the environment, forests, and biodiversity, and facilitate economic and trade development.”
ISPM 15 outlines the specific requirements on how commercial wood pallets, crates, boxes, and barrels must be heat treated if used for international shipping. It explains the exact guidelines that must be followed. The measure also outlines which items are exempt.
What is a Heat-Treated Pallet?
Now that we have discussed the why, let’s look more at the what.
Heat-treated pallets are also known as HT or export pallets. You’ll frequently see the abbreviation HT used instead of heat treated. It’s also important to note that while we will focus on discussing wood pallets, this same information also relates to other wood packaging materials such as crates, boxes, and barrels.
As we are sure you have deduced, wood pallets are made from trees. Trees do not grow in a sterile environment. They absorb their nourishment from the air, soil, and water in their natural surroundings. However, those aren’t the only things in their immediate environment. They are also exposed to pests. These pests—no matter the size—can easily embed themselves in the wood and be transported across the world if not addressed.
As you can imagine, pest-infested wood presents environmental and health risks. Heat treatment is a method used to sanitize wood pallets for this reason. The heat kills diseases, pests, and other natural contaminants that potentially lurk in untreated wood.
When done in accordance with ISPM 15, the commercial wood pallets are considered sterilized for use. As already mentioned, this is required for international shipping.
What are the Benefits of Using Heat-Treated Pallets?
There are three benefits of using heat-treated pallets.
Meet Compliance Requirements
This first benefit is more than just meeting the compliance requirements established by the IPPC in ISPM 15. While being compliant is vitally important for your business to continue to operate, following the established standards also helps protect more than you’d initially imagine.
Here are what heat-treated pallets protect:
- The product being shipped
- The environment from the point of origin to the final destination
- The countless individuals who will come into contact with the wooden shipping containers
Overall, heat-treated wood pallets ensure proper hygiene and safety for everyone and everything involved during the international shipping process.
Decrease Shipping Costs
This is a less obvious benefit, but it goes along with the second benefit we mentioned. As moisture is dried out of the wood, it not only reduces the risk of bacteria and mold, but also reduces the weight of the wood pallets.
Moisture in wood adds to its overall weight. By decreasing the moisture, you would also be decreasing the overall weight of the wood pallets used in a shipment. Over time, the savings add up.
What is the Process for Heat Treating a Pallet?
Now, let’s share more about the specific process used to heat-treat a wood pallet.
Throughout each step of this process, a thorough inspection is conducted. This is to ensure that the wood pallet meets the established guidelines and is ready to move to the next step.
First, the wood needs to be debarked. Pallets do not need to be 100% bark-free, but they must meet a minimal amount requirement in order to be qualified as heat-treated. ISPM 15 provides specific details about how much bark can remain on the wood and still be okay.
The reason that bark is removed is that most insect eggs are found within bark. Removing the bark begins the decontamination process.
Bark is usually removed from the wood before the pallets are constructed. However, an inspection will reveal if any additional bark needs to be removed. If so, the integrity of the pallet is also considered as removing the bark may jeopardize its stability.
ISPM 15 outlines several methods to treat wood pallets, but we use and recommend the heat treatment method.
To be heat treated, a wood pallet must have its internal core temperature reach a minimum of 132.8 degrees Fahrenheit. This temperature must be maintained for at least 30 consecutive minutes.
This heat treatment is usually done inside a large kiln or oven. The wood pallets are arranged in the kiln in methodical ways to facilitate proper airflow and heat distribution.
Probes are used throughout the kiln on the wood pallets to guarantee that the right temperature and time requirements are met. When the treatment is complete, the wood pallets are removed.
After heat treatment, the wood pallets are inspected again to ensure that all ISPM 15 requirements are met. If so, they are stamped or branded with the correct IPPC markings.
The IPPC stamp is a globally recognized symbol that signifies that the commercial wood pallet meets ISPM 15 standards. The stamp includes the IPPC symbol on the left side of the stamp. On the right side of the stamp, you’ll see the two-letter country code with the company’s registration number. You will also see the treatment code listed as HT if the pallet has been heat-treated.
After being stamped, the wood pallet is ready for use in international shipping.
How Long Does the Heat Treatment Last?
The great news is that the heat treatment lasts for the lifetime of the wood pallet. Wood pallets do not need to be re-treated after a certain number of months or years.
If for any reason any part of the wood pallet is removed and repaired with new material, it is no longer considered certified. The old stamp will need to be removed and the wood pallet re-treated again using the method we outlined previously. Then, it can be stamped again to designate the new certification.
Challenger Pallet is the leading wooden pallet manufacturer in the Northwest. We use top-of-the-line machinery to build our products while following the safest, most sustainable resources and practices.
As a company, we are committed to doing our part to create a supply of safe and sanitary wood pallets for shipping. We are certified monthly by Timber Products Inspection. If your company is shipping internationally, contact us today to see how we can help meet your international shipping needs.