Coming Attractions: Invasion of the Beetles

Transport packaging's grade-B science fiction movie, starring that brightly colored black-and-white, uninvited guest, the Asian longhorned beetle, is once again (maybe I should say still) terrorizing thousands of people, devastating forests and unintentionally creating work for hundreds of international shippers. Actually, this turns out to be not all bad. It's helping with the unemployment problem. I heard a quip from one wood pallet user who said that it's not so much dealing with the bug that's the problem, it's dealing with all the government paperwork!

Ah yes, paperwork. Few things in this paperless society push us into action quicker than having to do more paperwork. There are ways to ship internationally — beyond plastic pallets that are sometimes thought of as the only choice. You can do so while beating the paperwork required when shipping packaging material consisting of raw wood. I've recently learned of some alternative ways to deal with the Asian longhorned beetle, or, ALB as his friends call him.

As the U.S. deadline for compliance with ISPM15 (International Standard for Phytosanitary Measures) approaches (again), my phone has been ringing off the hook with readers seeking information about how to comply. (Okay, I received three calls.) This packaging regulation, years in the making, is designed to get you coming and going since it affects importers and exporters.

Let's first have a bit of review. The International Wood Packaging Standards were to have gone into effect long ago. The date has been shifting into the future faster than the infestation of Asian longhorned beetles. These science-based standards are a good thing, aimed at reducing the risk of introduction and spread of quarantined pests associated with wood packaging material. The standards apply to coniferous and non-coniferous raw wood used in international trade.

Guidelines were established after years of discussion; suspended because of a potential trademark infringement; and re-established when all of the 120 signatory countries were happy. There might still be some unhappy campers out there; however, the rules are going to happen. We should not lose sight of the fact that these standards for shipping wood packaging products, internationally, are science-based. They're not politically motivated trade barriers, or meant to be used to further political ambitions.

Included in these guidelines are all types of wood pallets, containers and dunnage. Remember, wood pallets are not being excluded from overseas shipping. Heat treatment and fumigation of the raw wood are the two ways to get your wood shipping material into compliance.

So, how do you ship your products to other countries and not get writer's cramp filling out the paperwork? Engineered wood is one way. This is veneers or stands of wood that have been bonded with a variety of glues and resins. Plywood is a common example of engineered wood.

I saw a variation on engineered wood during a visit to Litco International's Inca Pallet manufacturing plant. These presswood pallets have been in use for more than 30 years. Wood fibers are heated and mixed with synthetic resins to create a shipping platform that meets all quarantine regulations.

If you want something that will break the jaws of old ALB, think about shipping on steel. The folks at Worthington Steelpac Systems recently gave me a tour of its manufacturing operations. The shipping platforms being produced were comparable in many ways with wood, and offered a number of advantages.

In most grade-B movies, the evil-doer is usually done in with massive fire. When defeating ALB, you have to admit, switching to plastic, engineered wood, pressed wood or steel might not be as dramatic, but it's a lot easier. And you don't have to deal with the paperwork of complying with the Clean Air Act.

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