Bug Battle: News From the Behind the Lines

May 1, 2006
The bug issue is as important as ever. If you don't think so, talk with someone in the Linden N.J., area where tens of thousands of trees are being destroyed this month.

Walking the aisles of NA2006 in March, I was impressed—not necessarily surprised—at the number of new players in the plastic pallet game. While resin prices have slipped back a bit, I didn't think that was enough of an impetus to bring more manufacturers out of the woodwork.

I was chatting with Dr. Bob Fried of B&R Specialties (Staatsburg, N.Y.) who said, 10 years ago when he started coming to material handling shows, there were fewer than two-dozen plastic pallet manufacturers. Now, he estimates, there are about 90.

I didn't have to search long for the answer to the why-the-growth question. Nearly every pallet manufacturer I spoke with mentioned ISPM 15—the phytosanitary regulations aimed at the bug problem. One new pallet maker on the scene, Tom Bohan of Novo Foam Products (Westlake, Ohio), looked a bit like a deer in the headlights as crowds paused to see the Air Ride pallet he was offering. I asked how he was enjoying his first show. He said he had come prepared to discuss the technical advantages of his product, however, everyone walking into the booth wanted to talk about export regulations.

The bug issue is as important as ever. If you don't think so, talk with someone in the Linden, N.J., area where tens of thousands of trees are being destroyed this month. The black-and-white Asian longhorned beetle infestation has yet to be stopped, in spite of chemical warfare by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Healthy Inspection Service (APHIS).

Education (my role in this battle) is making headway. More people are aware of the problem; more pallet makers offer links to government information; and more people are taking the ISPM 15 regulations seriously.

As a pallet user, your role is to make the right choice when it comes to pallet selection. Here's some information to help you make informed decisions. The final phase of implementation for ISPM 15 comes into play July 5. This phase of the program means full enforcement of all articles regulating wood packaging material. According to APHIS, questions can be answered in a single sentence: Non-compliant regulation wood packaging material will not be allowed to enter the U.S. My source at APHIS says importers and suppliers of U.S. imports are strongly encouraged to meet the ISPM 15 standard to avoid delays or rejection of wood packaging material that might be in cargo shipments.

To avoid confusion of what kinds of things need to be in compliance, it's almost easier to say what is not controlled: loose wood products such as saw dust, excelsior and wood shavings are currently not affected. Virtually everything else—other than engineered wood products—must be in compliance.

The reason transport packaging material is in the spotlight on this issue is because most of the products used—pallets, crates and tiedowns—are often constructed from raw wood cut shortly before it is used. This frequently includes bark on some surfaces. If you've ever watched a woodpecker searching for a meal, the bark is where it goes for insects. Another reason regulations have targeted transport packaging material is that such products are often constructed from lower grades of wood that has suffered insect damage.

The regulations, designed to keep the bugs out, serve another purpose, product protection. Often wood, particularly crates, come into contact with the product being shipped, or with the product's carton. It is only a small leap for a bug from one meal source to another.

I just read of a capture by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Agricultural Specialists in Savannah of a khapra beetle (trogoderma granarium). This little guy was found in some personal effects shipped from Saudi Arabia, another battlefront currently seeing action of a different sort. This voracious insect is considered one of the more destructive pests of grains, cereal products and seeds.

While we've been concentrating our efforts on the Far East, it looks like the enemy outflanked us and is opening a new front.