Pallets – fact and fiction (or how to tell a safe pallet from a toxic one)…

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This means that any company or business wishing to transact internationally, needs to comply with international standards. One of those standards is established by the International Plant Protection Commission. The IPPC has been established to help prevent the spread of insects, fungus and mould between countries and especially, continents. Pallets used for international trade must bear IPPC certification that will contain information as shown here:

IPPC Compliance Marks
IPPC Compliance Marks

This symbol will include:

  • A two letter ISO country code. For instance, AU for Australia or US for the United States.
  • The 000 portion of the symbol represents the unique certification number issued to the treatment provider or wood packaging manufacturer. Inclusion of this certification number ensures that the wood packaging material can be traced back to the treatment provider or manufacturer.
  • YY is the treatment abbreviation.
  • HT is the code for heat treatment to a minimum of 56 degrees Celsius for a minimum of 30 minutes.
  • MB is the code for methyl bromide fumigation.

What you are interested in is the two letters at the bottom right of the IPPC logo – in this example currently showing HT for Heat Treated. If the letters are MB, it means that pallet has been treated with methyl bromide. Leave it where it is. Assuming the letters are HT, you are good to go!

What if there are no markings on the pallet?

In this case, it means that the pallet has been manufactured for domestic use only. Accordingly, it does not need to be treated – by either heat or chemicals. These pallets are made from the cheapest possible timbers as they are designed to be discarded with the packaging of whatever was sitting on it. This means that you can use unmarked pallets with a high level of confidence.

I hope that this has helped to clear the air and dispel some of the myths surrounding the re-purposing of pallets. I repeat that I am not an expert on pallets. However, as someone keen to recycle and re-purpose wherever possible, I have taken the time to research and read available materials on pallet construction and treatment. I recommend that you reassure yourself by doing some research to determine what may or may not be safe in your locale.

How to dismantle a pallet

Let’s face it, pallets are not meant to come apart. They are manufactured with galvanised nails that have serrations to bind to the wood. Nonetheless, pallets can be dismantled if reasonable care is taken. Because pallets are made from very inexpensive (read cheap) timber, you are guaranteed to get splinters handling pallets if you do not wear gloves. The following instructions are courtesy of the Canadian Pallet and Container Association.

How to >  disassemblyofpallets

It seems that there are as many ideas for re-purposing pallets as there are people on the face of the earth. We would love to see your project when it’s finished. Even better, take lots of photographs and write a guest blog for us.

If you have any questions or suggestions, just use the comment option below. Thanks for joining us.

The OBN Team

  • guest

    Just put same gasoline on them and then in fire for 2-3 seconds :)
    If there are same chemicals on them will burn

    • Using petrol in that way probably does incinerate the chemicals but might just incinerate you. It’s not something I would recommend. If in doubt, don’t use the pallet.

  • Thanks for this information, especialy that pallets treated with methyl bromide are banned in New Zealand. I love the idea of vertical gardens, but it’s been difficult to get good information on how to tell if pallets are treated in New Zealand. I now have something to go on. Thanks again!

    • Happy to help, Lesley. Send us some pics of your project when done :)

  • Robin Morrill

    Thanks so much for the info on pallets. I see so many beautiful things made from them. Now I have the knowledge to know which ones can be used and which ones to leave behind.

    • You’re welcome Robin. Unfortunately, there is a lot of misinformation out ‘there’.

  • Chris Redmon

    I disagree in that counting on the symbols or lack thereof making them acceptable for use as food growth devices. I know for a fact that there are three companies in my area that use those pallets for numerous things within their industrial facilities after they acquire them as part of incoming packaging. Just the idea that many of those things have been in an industrial plant makes them questionable since there are a myriad of ways they may have been used or stored before discarded, sold or re-used for shipping. Personally, I would never recommend using pallets for anything that might allow whatever has been on them to leach into whatever plants or indoor uses you may have in mind. Would you really want to have your kids or animals having direct contact with something that may have been stored or used in an industrial setting? Not me. I recommend outdoor uses only and not near plants you’ll eat or flowers you’ll use for interior arrangements.

    • Hi Chris,

      The article covers the ‘if in doubt as to origin or use’ question in the third and then again, in the fourth paragraphs. What you are ignoring is that the vast majority of one time use pallets end up in landfill after that single use. In fact, very few single use pallets have the structural integrity for ‘industrial use’. They are simply not designed to last. A simple example would be a sofa shipped from China. It sits on a pallet. It arrives at the store and is removed from the pallet. The pallet is then dumped. Walk out the back of any furniture retailer if in doubt.

      The bottom line is that the vast majority of pallets are safe to use as long as a modicum of common-sense is used.

  • Angela Herremans

    Thank you for the information, when I recycled the pallets used to bring in the solar panels a few years back it never even crossed my mind of any of that stuff, oops oh well I was lucky :-)
    We built a colour bond shed for me so that I can turn it into my sewing room :-) and I decided I wanted a wooden floor and went looking at all the different products on the market, well let’s say they were well out of my budget.
    our next door neighbour had been installing solar panle units and the came in on specially built pallets to ensure the panels arrived safe. They were 10mm plywood boards on blocks double sided so Dad and I spent a few weeks putting the pallets through the bench saw so that we could cut off the blocks which left us with all different sized panels of wood. The skinny bits we used as the floor spacers so that there is a pocket of air between the floor and the concert which we lined with the flooring floor underlay for the added protection to the wood and heat loss :-)
    As we were cutting the pallets apart we found that not all of them were at 10mm some were 12 some 13 and a few other odd ones too :-) once we glued and nailed the spacers to the flooring then tired to put the thicker ones into the middle of the floor and the 10mm all around the outer part of the rooms :-)
    We then hired a blooming big floor drum sander and then spent the another week sanding the floor to one level :-)
    Once that was done I then spent two weeks on a trolley bed Dad made me so I could lay on my tummy and with the mixture of PVA glue and the extra fine sawdust I then filled the gaps between the panels and once dry I then spent the rest of the time with my hand held sander and 280 grit paper sanding the floor to a perfect smoothness so I could then use the watered down wood stain I mixed for the perfect honey coloured floor that I wanted and once that was all dry I then redid the sanding as this did lift the fibres in the wood which was not good for varnishing once that was done on went the first tin of varnish waited for that to dry and then again on the belly and sanded for another 3 days for a nice smothe finish ready for the second coat :-) we did have to end up doing three coats in the end but it was worth all the time I spent sanding as I now have an amazing wooden floor with so many variations in it which has given it it’s an amazing finish :-)
    But the very best part of it all, was I had a lot of fun making my very own wooden floor and there is not another one like it anywhere because of what we had used to make it with, I do have pictures but I will need to hunt them out as they are not on my iPad.

    • Hi Angela,
      Wonderful story. Thanks! Do you have any photo’s?

      DW

  • Thank´s God!
    In Chile, don´t Used that Pallets :D

    Bye!