Oh, Woe Is Wood
As if the wood products industry did not have enough to worry about, the latest mandate from the European Union (EU) is causing confusion, concern and consternation.
The EU’s emergency measures regarding phytosanitary conditions of wood products to prevent the spread of pests such as the pinewood nematode and Asian longhorn beetle did not exactly sneak up on wood product manufacturers and users. However, its full impact was not anticipated. In early September, many manufacturers of wood products were unclear about what needed to be done and how much compliance was going to cost. At least that’s the feeling I got while talking with several dozen wood product manufacturers at the Wood Container Technology conference in Seattle.
Here’s the long and short of it: Effective October 1, all non-manufactured wood packing products (also referred to as solid wood packing material) must be certified to meet mandatory measures. The regulations apply to coniferous species of wood. And while the regulations have already gone into effect, there remain many unanswered questions.
On this side of the pond, the American Lumber Standard Committee (ALSC) is the accrediting body that will audit and certify that lumber used in pallets, reels and containers is pest-free. More accurately, ALSC will pass accreditation onto other agencies to do the physical inspection. Currently there are nine such accredited agencies in the U.S.
Here’s a brief explanation of the regulations. If your company ships products to Europe on wooden pallets or in wooden containers, I suggest you check Web sites such as apa.org (APA — the Engineered Wood Association) or nwpca.com (National Wooden Pallet and Container Association) for details. You will have to check on your supplier of wood pallets and containers.
Essentially, as manufacturers of wooden pallets and containers, your responsibilities include maintaining a systematic method of keeping records and in-facility quality control procedures approved by the auditing agency.
The wood being used in the manufacture or repair of pallets and containers must be labeled heat-treated or kiln-dried heat-treated (HT or KD HT). Your records will have to show that the volumes of HT or KD HT wood being produced are adequate to produce the quantities of products being so labeled. Treated wood will also have to display a compliancy mark.
Eric Carlson, a packaging engineer with The Packaging Department, one of the nine agencies in the U.S. accredited to do the audits, tells me that to comply with the EU regulations, all new and used non-manufactured wood products must be heat treated for 30 minutes at 56 C core temperature, or “they may be pressure treated or fumigated in accordance with officially recognized technical specifications.”
Carlson adds that as an official inspection agency, his company places a licensed quality mark on two opposite sides of the wood. “The mark includes the heat-treated identification, a heat-treated stamp, the country code and the international ‘no bug’ symbol.”
According to estimates by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, more than 30 percent of the 450 million new pallets produced annually (probably a higher percentage for the total used for exports) are made of coniferous wood and subject to inspection.
What to do? At Pack Expo Las Vegas, I saw several new plastic pallets designed for exports. Low cost, recycled material, ready to go. But there is a wood alternative on the way. The regulations affect non-manufactured wood. Tom Kositzky of APA — the Engineered Wood Association tells me tests have recently been completed on lighter-weight plywood pallets suitable for air freight, and they bypass international phytosanitary concerns.
Stay tuned. It appears this association is still working out some bugs with pallet manufacturers using engineered wood, but should have an announcement — soon.
Clyde E. Witt