Frontline Report from the Pallet Wars

March 1, 2002
The bullets are once again flying on the wooden versus plastic pallet issue. Now it's the bugs' turn.

A recent advertisement denigrating wooden pallets, and touting plastic pallets as the primary solution for shipping products to Europe, has set off another scattering of small-arms fire in the Pallet Wars. I’ve taken my wrinkled correspondent’s jacket out of storage to provide some exclusive coverage from the battleground in Europe — because that’s where I hear the rumbling of big guns in the background.

The spark, this time, seems to have been ignited by misunderstandings surrounding the European Union’s (EU) phytosanitation requirements and the application of those requirements to wooden pallets. The underlying concern seems to be where people (you readers, in particular) are getting information.

Why the confusion after nearly two years of discourse is baffling. It looks like a case of miscommunication, or lack of communication. I’ve written about the subject of insectivorous wooden pallets no fewer than a half dozen times in the past two years. I thought everyone understood the situation regarding what kinds of pallets and wood packing material could (or could not) be used to carry and protect loads into the countries that have adopted the EU’s requirements.

It appears some clarification is still required. So, I’ll try again. You have my publisher’s permission to tear this page from our magazine and post it wherever you feel it will do the most good.

The Commission of the European Communities has adopted emergency measures requiring the treatment and marking of all new and used coniferous wood species (e.g., pine, spruce, fir), non-manufactured wood packing material (NMWP), originating in the U.S., Canada, China or Japan, and departing the country of origin on or after October 1, 2001. The purpose is to prevent the introduction of the pinewood nematode. Hardwood species and manufactured wood are exempt from the EU emergency measures.

The emergency measures allow three treatment options for coniferous NMWP: heat treatment, fumigation or chemical pressure impregnation. In all cases, wood must bear a mark indicating the organization or company that treated the NMWP and the location of that organization.

The official international plant protection organization, as recognized by the World Trade Organization (about 117 countries strong including all members of the EU), is the International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC). IPPC is considering a draft of international standards (with measures similar to those of the EU) that will apply to all NMWP, coniferous and hardwood species, according to my source at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The draft standard is circulating as you read this. It is to be voted upon in March.

What should you, as a user of wooden pallets, do? First, get smart. Pay particular attention to the markings on the pallets you purchase. The National Wooden Pallet and Container Association and other organizations have already adopted the proper markings, and inspection procedures are in place. For example, there are markings for heat treatment and a cool international “no bug” symbol to indicate the pallet or container has been treated, inspected and built by an authorized source. Currently there are about a dozen organizations participating in the heat-treatment inspection program. NWPCA has developed an optional mark, “hardwood only NMWP,” that has been accepted by the EU commission. Incidentally, the EU and the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) have recommended heat treatment be the option of choice. It’s the “only long-term measure” currently listed in the IPPC draft standard.

Check for information at These folks are from the government and they’re here to help. Also, APA — The Engineered Wood Association ( or NWPCA ( can give you even more information along with the latest news. Meanwhile, I’m going to hunker down and wait for the next barrage.

Clyde E. Witt, executive editor, [email protected]

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