Heat Treated Wooden Crates and Pallets for Export

If you plan on shipping a product overseas within a wooden container, you need to make sure it is ISPM 15 compliant, which often means heat-treating any wooden crates or pallets that you are planning on using.

What is ISPM 15?

The ISPM 15 is an International Phytosanitary Measure, developed and standardised by the International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC). A Phytosanitary Measure is a set of regulations [1] that concern the protection or enhancement of plant health. The ISPM 15 [2] is just one of 42 standards (as of December 2019) that are governed by the IPPC and enforced with the aim of protecting sustainable agriculture, enhancing food security, protecting the environment (including forest and biodiversity) and facilitating better economic and trade development.

What is the IPPC?

The IPPC is a multilateral treaty that was set up in 1951 under the oversight of the Food and Agriculture Organization, itself a specialised agency of the United Nations. Combining the efforts of 184 parties from around the world, the IPPC is recognised as the only international standard-setting body for plant health. The first ISPM was adopted in 1993, with many following in the years since covering a wide range of issues such as the International movement of seeds (ISPM 38) and Diagnostic protocols for regulated pests (ISPM 27).

When was ISPM 15 created?

ISPM 15 was officially adopted by the IPPC in 2002. However, rules governing the standardisation of regulating wood packaging materials had been enshrined in other forms before then.

As far back as 1999, the IPPC had been implementing regulations related to wood packing, this was followed up by an expert working group developing draft text, which was revised, sent for consultation and initially adopted as ICPM-4, before being renamed as ISPM 15. Since then, ISPM 15 has been revised and amended dozens of times, with the most recent major update taking place in 2018.

Why was ISPM 15 introduced?

ISPM 15 was introduced to standardise and control wood packaging materials used for international trade. This was done with the aim of reducing the risk of introducing and spreading pests or other organisms that have a negative impact on forest health and biodiversity.

How can raw wooden packaging impact biodiversity?

Raw, unprocessed wood is often used to create packagings such as wooden crates and wooden pallets. Whilst this material is often very cheap, unfortunately, it is often infested with pests and organisms. Whilst these pests may be under control in their native country, they are given the opportunity to spread to new territory when transported in pallets or crates made from raw wood.

These pests pose a risk to living trees across the world, for example, the Asian Longhorned beetle and emerald ash borer have both been known to infest and kill healthy host trees [3]. Wooden packaging is often broken down, reused, repaired or remanufactured after it has served its initial purpose, making it difficult to identify its original source of origin and its phytosanitary status.

Pests and diseases can be marginally inconvenient or potentially devastating. The chalara dieback fungus, for example, is fatal to ash trees [4], while Dutch Elm disease caused between 10% and 40% of elm trees to be lost in Europe at the beginning of the 20th century [5], and another 20 million in the 1960s just within the UK. Certain moths, whose larvae can reside in wood, are damaging to humans and to animals [6], while many beetles lay their larvae in trees allowing species to travel across long distances.

What type of shipping packaging does the ISPM 15 apply to?

The ISPM 15 covers all wooden packaging materials that could potentially serve as a pathway for pest that could harm biodiversity or pose a risk to living trees. The IPPC’s definition of wood packaging applies to transport goods which are thicker than 6mm – that includes crates, boxes, packing cases, dunnage, pallets, cable drums and spools/reels.

What woods are exempt from ISPM 15?

Some wood packaging is exempt from ISPM 15 regulations. These forms of wood packaging are considered to not pose a significant enough risk:

  • Wood packaging that is 6mm or less in thickness.
  • Wood packaging comprised entirely of processed wood, such as plywood or veneer that has been processed using heat, pressure or glue.
  • Barrels for wines and spirits that have been heated as a part of the manufacturing process.
  • Gift boxes that have been processed in a way that renders them pest-free.
  • Sawdust, shaving or wood wool that are too fine to be treated or reasonably transport pests.
  • Wood components that are permanently fixed to transport vehicles, such as steps or lifts.

Who enforces the ISPM 15 standards in the UK?

The ISPM 15 standards are enforced by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs [7] in the UK. Although the standards are set out by the IPPC, the ISPM 15 specifically states that is the responsibility of each nation’s National Plant Protection Organisation (NPPO) to ensure that the correct standards for phytosanitary measures are upheld.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is responsible for holding treatment providers accountable for the treated wooden packaging products they produce, whereas it is the responsibility of each country’s customs to check that packaging is properly stamped with IPPC approved markings.

What are the ISPM 15 approved treatments for wooden crates?

There are four ISPM 15 approved treatments for wooden crates and other packaging:

  • Heat Treatment (using conventional steam or dry kiln)
  • Dielectric heating (microwaves or radiowaves)
  • Methyl bromide treatment
  • Sulphuryl fluoride treatment

Heat Treatment

Conventional heat treatment, through either stem or dry kiln heat chambers, requires the wood to be heated to a minimum temperature of 56 degrees celsius, for a minimum duration of 30 continuous minutes.

The ISPM 15 does allow for alternative methods of heating, however, the requirements regarding temperature and duration must be kept to. For such methods to be approved, a rigorous test schedule must be in place to ensure that the core temperature of the wood correlates with the heating chamber air temperature, taking into account, amongst other things, parameters such as species, the thickness of wood, moisture content and airflow rate.

Dielectric heating

Dielectric heat involves the use of microwaves or radiowaves to heat wood to a specific temperature. The ISPM 15 requirements in regards to core temperature and duration are extended due to the differences in this technology. Those providing dielectric heating must prove that their machines can achieve a minimum core temperature of at least 60 degrees centigrade for one continuous minute.

Methyl bromide treatment

The use of methyl bromide to fumigate wood used for packaging must be done in accordance with a schedule approved by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. It must be proved that the wood is exposed to the methyl bromide at a minimum concentration-time for over 24 hours, which results in a minimum final concentration, depending on the temperature that the treatment process is conducted at.

The fumigation of wood as a phytosanitary measure has been discouraged by the IPPC recently. The ISPM 15 specifically mentions that NPPOs should explore alternative methods, where possible, to reduce the use of methyl bromide as a treatment measure, as the chemical has been known to deplete the ozone layer [8].

In 2010, methyl bromide as a form of chemical treatment, was banned in the EU as a dangerous substance to both humans and the environment [9]. Any wood that has been treated with methyl bromide and stamped as such can still be used, but no new wood can be treated this way in the EU.

Sulphuryl fluoride treatment

Similar to methyl bromide treatment, the ISPM 15 requires that the fumigation of wood with sulphuryl fluoride must be done in accordance with a schedule that has been approved by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. Depending on the temperature of the treatment process, wood treated this way must be exposed to the chemical from between 24 to 48 hours. The minimum final concentrations required will depend on the temperature of the process.

Which countries require ISPM 15 certified wooden crates?

184 contracting countries currently operate using the IPPC’s ISPMs, these include all countries in the European Union, the United States and Australia. The IPPC’s List of Countries [10] is the most up to date record of countries requiring ISPM 15 certified wooden crates and packaging.

How are crates marked for ISPM 15?

Wooden crates or any other form of wooden packaging that has been treated in accordance with the ISPM 15 should be marked accordingly. There are a number of criteria that make up the IPPC approved ISPM 15 mark, these are:

  • IPPC symbol
  • Country code
  • Producer code
  • Treatment code, using the approved abbreviation

IPPC Example Mark

Example ISPM 15 mark from IPPC

IPPC Symbol

The IPPC’s symbol is in the shape of an ear of corn with the acronym clearly marked on the right-hand side. The symbol should always be positioned on the left-hand side of the marking and should also comprise half of the entire mark itself.

Country Code

The country code (labelled as XX in the example) should be the first written figure on the mark and denotes the country of origin. This should be positioned adjacent to the treatment code, but separated by a hyphen. Each contracting party has its own two-letter abbreviated code [11], for example, GB for the United Kingdom, or CH for Switzerland.

Producer Code

The producer/treatment code is positioned next to the country code and is used to identify who is responsible for the treatment of the wood packaging. Sometimes this might be the treatment provider itself, or it might be the organisation that applies the mark itself or is responsible for the standards of treatment being upheld. Each code is unique to the organisation so that they can be held accountable for wood packaging that has been found to be insufficiently treated.

Treatment Code

Finally, the treatment code should be positioned beneath the country code, or separated with a hyphen if placed on the same line as the country and producer code. The treatment code should correspond with the IPPC’s approved treatment measures, which are:

HT: Heat treatment

DH: Dielectric heating

MB: Methyl bromide

SF: Sulphuryl fluoride

A number of rules and exemptions are associated with the mark. The size, font types and position may vary, but the mark should always be visible and clearly legible to inspectors. The mark should always be a rectangular or square shape, must not be hand-drawn and shouldn’t include trademarks of any other producer or authorising body.

What happens if you fail to comply with ISPM 15 regulations?

Failing to comply with the ISPM 15 regulations (whether through fraudulent marking, improper marking or missing marks in batches) can result in a variety of outcomes including: fines, incurring costs for fumigation or repackaging, denial of shipment, or even landfill burial or incineration of the entire shipment.

The ISPM 15 outlines some methods of secure disposal of ‘non-compliant’ wooden crates. These include incineration, deep burial at a depth of at least 2 metres (except when termites or root pathogens are present), processing or simply return to the country of origin. They recommend that these actions should be taken with the least delay possible, in order to minimise the risk of pests spreading from the shipment.

Have the ISPM 15 been proven to work?

ISPM 15 has been proven to work. This has been backed up by scientific studies which have analysed pest interception rates of wood packaging material at United States ports, before and after the implementation of the ISPM 15. This analysis showed that infestation rates of wood packaging dropped between 36-52% [12] after the standards were implemented.

How do you heat treat a wooden crate?

Wooden crates are heat treated by being placed in either a dry kiln or steam heating chamber. In order for the wooden crate to be deemed heat treated to ISPM 15 standards, the wood must have reached a core temperature of at least 56 degrees celsius for a continuous 30 minutes. Once treated, the crate must then be marked using the correct codes and symbols, in order for it to be recognised as heat treated to ISPM 15 standards.

How can you ensure ISPM 15 compliance for your crates?

Barnes & Woodhouse have a heat treating and drying kiln on-site. This allows us to prepare large items for shipping overseas without delay, as we are one of the very few UK companies with the ability to do this, saving you the time and effort that might have been spent getting the same service abroad.

We have been authorised by the National Plant Protection Organisation to heat-treat our timber cases, pallets and any other materials which need to be sent overseas. We are assessed every six months, so you can be sure we haven’t left standards slip.

Where can you purchase heat treated crates?

You can purchase heat treated crates from producers such as ourselves, or you may be able to source them second hand. Any and all of our products can be made ISPM 15 compliant if necessary – you just need to ask.

Get in touch with us using the contact form or call us on 01642 224092 to find out how we can help you today.

FAQs

What is a heat treated wooden crate?

A heat treated wooden crate is a wooden crate or box that has been properly treated in accordance with the measures laid out in the ISPM 15. In some cases, the wood that constitutes the entirety of the wooden crate may have been treated before the packaging is constructed. Depending on what heat treatment is used, the wood should reach and maintain a minimum core temperature of 56 degrees celsius for a 30 minutes, to be fit for ISPM 15 marking.

How do you know if a crate has been heat treated?

You can tell that a crate has been heat-treated by the mark that has been stencilled or printed onto the wood. The abbreviation ‘HT’ denotes ‘heat treatment’, however, this mark will be invalid if there is evidence that the wooding package has been rebuilt or repaired using other materials.

How can you recognise an infestation in your wooden crate?

Infestation in wooden crates may not be immediately obvious, especially in the case of smaller organisms such as nematodes. Larger organisms, such as the Asian long-horned beetle or Powderpost beetles, may leave visible evidence of their presence. For example, sharp circular exit holes are often left by insects burrowing out of the wood after from within as eggs. Emerging beetles may leave a small mound of ‘frass’, which appears as powdery sawdust on the edge of exit holes.

Can heat treated crates be reused?

Heat treated crates can be reused for international shipping, as long as they have not been repaired, altered or remanufactured with other materials. As soon as new materials are used to modify or repair a wooden packaging unit, it loses any ISPM 15 credibility that it once had, regardless of the mark that it might still bear.

Can you reuse a heat treated wooden crate if it needs to be repaired?

A heat treated wooden crate can not be reused if it has been repaired using additional materials. You are, however, permitted to build on to existing wood packaging with ISPM 15 material. For example, a heat-treated ISPM 15 certified pallet could be augmented with a timber frame that has been separately heat-treated and marked accordingly. If your heat treated wooden crate needs maintenance in order to function, then you’ll have to get the entire crate heat treated in order for it to be ISPM 15 compliant again.

Are unmarked wooden crates safe?

Unmarked crates are safe to use for national shipping or garden projects, however, without a mark, you will not know the origins of the materials. Chemically treated wooden crates are the only crates that may be hazardous to handle, however, these should always be marked clearly by the treatment provider.

Are heat-treated crates treated for outdoor use?

Heat-treated crates are treated to kill any pests that might be living within the raw wood, they are not treated for the purpose of outdoor use. Whilst heat-treated crates can be suitable for outdoor use, they will still require care if you intend to do this. Heat-treated wood still needs to be cleaned, sanded, finished and sealed before being kept outdoors for an extended period of time. If properly prepared and looked after, heat-treated crates survive for years in the elements.

Can you burn heat treated wooden crates?

Heat-treated wooden crates are safe to burn. Do not burn wooden crates that have been treated by methyl bromide (marked MB), as these will release the chemical once burned which has been associated with human health risks and ozone layer depletion.

Can you buy ISPM 15 certified wood and use that to build a crate?

You can’t buy ISPM 15 certified wood and use that to build your own crate. ISPM 15 certification is essentially a quality control program that only approved treatment providers can work within. Although raw wood may be heat treated in bulk, the products made from this wood can only be marked with the necessary symbols and codes by approved providers.

Get in touch with us using the contact form or call us on 01642 224092 to find out how we can help you today.

Resources

[1] Adopted Standards ISPMs – IPPC

[2] ISPM 15 – Regulation of wood packaging material in international trade  – IPPC

[3] Demonstrating the Benefits of Phytosanitary Regulations: The Case Of ISPM 15 – 2010 USDA Research Forum on Invasive Species

[4] Ash dieback (Hymenoscyphus fraxineus) – Forest Research

[5] Dutch elm disease: History of the Disease – Forest Research

[6] Tiny pests in and around the home – BPCA

[7] Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs – Gov.uk

[8] The Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer – UNEP

[9] Methyl Bromide General Information – Gov.uk

[10] List of Countries – IPPC

[11] List of country codes – Canadian Pellets

[12] Effectiveness of the International Phytosanitary Standard ISPM No. 15 on Reducing Wood Borer Infestation Rates in Wood Packaging Material Entering the United States