The entire global economy depends upon one single object: the wooden pallet. Just about everything from the cereal box in your kitchen cupboard to the desk in your office building sat at one point on a wooden pallet during its path from production to final buyer. Pallets are the invisible products that make local, regional, national, and, yes, even international shipping possible. These simple pieces of wood are so ubiquitous that in the United States alone, their manufacture accounts for over 46% of the toal U.S. hardwood lumber production.

Pallets as the Preffered Shipping Method

Why are wooden pallets the preferred method of shipping? The reasons are simple. Wooden pallets are durable while still being relatively light. They are easy to use and offer incredible protection while also being low cost. Yet, for all of the great and many advantages of using wooden pallets, there is one key disadvantage. That primary disadvantage is that wooden pallets are notorious for being prone to being negatively affected by termites, bed bugs, and other pests that are harmful to living organisms. The ideal method of overcoming this is with pallet fumigation.

How Does it Work?

Pallet fumigation is the best proven technique for controlling those common pests that impact pallets. During the process, key chemical vapors are released with the dual intent to eliminate any existing pests and sterilize it to prevent against future infestations. This has been shown to greatly minimize and in some cases even eliminate the spread of diseases and risks, which is a particularly important aspect during international shipping where the introduction of non-native animal species and organisms can wreak havoc on an environment.

There are a few various ways for this type of fumigation to be completed. Normally, it is done for all wood packaging materials prior to their use as shipping materials. However, sometimes general fumigation can be done in an empty container before goods are loaded onto pallets and put on and other times fumigation is done after all pallets and cargo have been loaded in a given container and the doors have been closed.

While this type of all-in fumigation is the most effective at eliminating pests, because the chemicals can seep into certain organic materials it is not allowed where there are any food products destined for direct consumption, young child and baby products, and certain other specified goods as laid out by international standards.

International Standards Come into Play

The international standards say which chemicals can be used during pallet fumigation and how they are issued by the International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC), which is a subdivision of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations governing board. In regards to wood packaging materials and pallet fumigation, the IPPC issued a series of specialized regulations known as the International Standards for Phytosanitary Measures (ISPMS), of which ISM 15 pertains specifically to the treatment and protocols necessary to reduce and seek to eliminate the risk of introducing and spreading invasive pests during pallet shipping.

Shippers and buyers of goods will know that a pallet conforms to the regulations of ISPM 15 if it bears the appropriate stamping. All countries that participate in the ISPM 15 program must utilize a special stamp on all wooden packaging materials. That stamp must contain the following key pieces of information: country of origin, facility code where the pallet underwent the appropriate fumigation or heat treatment, and the type of treatment it underwent (again, generally either pallet fumigation or heat treatment). When pallets are shipped across different countries, there must also be a third-party inspection agency. Currently, the only type of fumigant permitted by ISPM 15 standards for the fumigation is Methyl Bromide.

Shipping facilities that receive pallets without the appropriate ISPM 15 stamping, or otherwise show signs of pest infestation, may be ordered to undergo additional treatment in the receiving country, or the cargo may be forced to export back to the shipper’s facility or undergo prompt destruction.