With an estimated 2 billion pallets being used every day, and much more laying around, no wonder so many projects have been made with pallets. At 1001Pallets, we present you 1001 ways to recycle, upcycle, reuse or repurpose wooden pallets! But many of you have questions about pallet's safety and wonder if the pallets they found are safe to use or not.
We tried to summarize the information we found. The first issue is to be careful of what has been spilled on the pallet! If there are any spills on it, either oil, food or unknown substances, do not use this pallet, it is well known that pallets are used to transport all sorts of nasty products and liquids. It is much safer to use only clean ones and not try to identify what might be on your pallet.
Once you have found a clean pallet, the next step is to check for a stamp or marking on the sides of the pallet. Here is what we can tell you about those stamps:
WHEN THERE IS NO STAMP OR MARK ON THE PALLET?
It means that it is a "national pallet" that is used for domestic transport (wherever you are located)! Most of them are not treated with chemicals, so may be entirely safe. But you still have to be careful. I know people who use these pallets safely, but it is better if you can trace where they come from.
FOR INTERNATIONAL PALLETS
There are two main things to look for on the stamp:
- The IPPC Logo: if you don't see it, don't use it! Even if a pallet may be perfectly safe without this logo, it could also mean that it was treated with chemicals!
- The treatment code : [HT] = Heat treatment / [MB] = Methyl Bromide / [DB] = Debarked / [KD] = Kiln Dried.
The IPPC logo is for International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC) pallets that are used and shipped internationally. These pallets are required to be made of a material that will not carry invasive insect species or plant diseases through different countries. To meet the IPPC standards, a pallet cannot be made of raw wood that has not been treated, in other terms; all pallets are treated. These pallets are treated with one of the methods listed below, and the treatment is made under the supervision of an official agency approved to do this. Without this stamp, the pallet may be safe or not, so you should only use pallets whose source can be traced for safe use.
[HT]: Wooden pallets manufactured in Canada or the US undergo a pest control treatment called heat treating (HT) which involves heating the pallet to a minimum core temperature of 56°C for softwoods and 60°C for hardwoods for a minimum of 30 minutes in a kiln. HT pallets are not harmful to your health.
[KD]: The purpose of kiln-dried lumber is to reduce the moisture content of the wood (19% or less). This is a means to control warping, fungal growth, and other quality features. The kilns or "ovens" the lumber is put into, do not necessarily reach the sustained temperature of 133 degrees Fahrenheit (56 Celsius) that would qualify as heat treated. Many lumber mills are processing their lumber to meet the heat treatment requirements thus you will see "KD-HT" incorporated in the lumber grade stamp. With cherry and oak wood, it should be noted that, at this temperature, sap will be released from within the wood. Sap will coat the wood with a dark stain, making the pallets or crates appear old and worn. In fact, the pallets and crates may be quite new, and their strength or durability has not been compromised in any way by the HT process. KD pallets are not harmful to your health.
Note: 2013-13 CPM-8 adopted revised Annex 1 to ISPM 15 to include heat treatment using dielectric heating. When lumber or used, previously assembled, repaired or remanufactured wood packaging material is heat treated using dielectric heating the treatment code mark is DH.
[MB]: Methyl bromide fumigation, this is a powerful pesticide (that has been linked to human health problems and ozone layer depletion) used to treat the wood to kill invasive species like pine beetles. In 1987, the Montreal Protocol aimed to regulate the use of Methyl bromide along with multiple other chemicals found to impact the ozone. This type of treatment is nowaday banned in Canada and many countries because it poses a health risk to workers handling the pallets. But, you can still find it in some places. If you find an MB pallet (likely from Asia or Oceana ), please do not use it for your craft projects or as firewood, find a waste-removal company that can dispose of it properly.
Methyl bromide is a broad spectrum pesticide used in the control of pest insects, nematodes, weeds, pathogens, and rodents. In the U.S., methyl bromide has been used in agriculture, primarily for soil fumigation, as well as for commodity and quarantine treatment, and structural fumigation.
Methyl bromide can enter the body through inhalation by breathing air contaminated with methyl bromides, through the skin or the eyes. The symptoms of inhalation of methyl bromide are:
- abdominal pain,
- labored breathing,
- loss of speech and incoordination.
When exposed to skin, it can cause tingling and itching. It can also be absorbed through the skin and the symptoms of absorption are:
- burning sensation,
- pain and blisters.
When methyl bromide comes in contact with eyes, the symptoms are:
- blurred vision,
- temporary loss of vision.
The EPA lists methyl bromide as "highly acute toxic"! Hopefully, since 2005, methyl bromide has not been used to fumigate pallets. But, as there are still old pallets in circulation, we reiter our advice to not use MB pallets in any of your projects!
[DB]: These two letters mean the pallet was debarked, and many pallets have this stamp. Concretely, this means that the wood was debarked under IPPC regulations, but it does not matter if your pallet does not have this stamp as many of them do not have it. The process of "debarking" wood is to remove the bark (rough outer layers of wood) using a cutting tool or a planer, and the pallet wood remains untreated. This procedure is done to allow for a more thorough treatment of wood before being approved for transport (aside from smoothing the wood). Pallets marked with the letters DB only are chemical-free and safe to use. Newer pallets no longer require this stamp by the IPPC, as most modern wood treatment procedures require "debarking" as a standard part of their process.
[Other Stamps]: Sometimes, you come across other acronyms stamped on the pallets you find. This stamp indicates the name of the pallet inspection firm, a manufacturing company, or an uncommon type of wood. If you find a stamp, you are unsure of, this for which you cannot find any official information, avoid using this pallet, or check on the Internet to see if other people have come across it before.
Sometimes you may also see the letters [PRL]; it means that the pallet was verified by the Package Research Laboratory (PRL).
Here is an example:
This pallet was made in Slovenia (SI) by the supplier 341220, the pallet was Heat Treated (HT) and debarked (DB). The pallet was made in July 2011. This pallet is safe to use. For the international country code, visit ISO website.
A supplier number is a unique number (000) assigned by the National Plant Protection Organization (NPPO).
This pallet was made in China (CN) by the supplier 003, the pallet was treated by fumigation with methyl bromide (MB) and debarked (DB). The pallet was made in 2012. Don't use it; this pallet is not safe!
The same thing applies, but sometimes there is no another stamp than EPAL or EUR. You should choose the one with EPAL. The one marked with EUR comes from an old system managed by railways companies. If they are EPAL approved too, then it is OK! They are just heat treated (HT) the same way as described above. Europe does not allow chemical treatments. These pallets can carry 1500kg.
You may also find pallets without any sign on them. They are made to be used a single time. The most robust ones are those used for building materials (bricks, cement, etc...). They are not treated with chemicals and can be easily reused. Many people ask where to find pallets! You may go to your nearest DIY store (or materials store).
WHAT ABOUT COLORED PALLETS?
Pallets usually last 4 to 5 years, or8 to 10 when they are the property of a renting company. Colored pallets usually come from one of these firms.
There are four main pallet pool companies in the world that you can differentiate by the color:
- Red pallets: pool LPR (La Palette Rouge from Europe)
- Red pallets: pool PECO (The Pallet Exchange Company from the USA)
- Blue pallets: pool CHEP (Commonwealth Handling Equipment Pool from Australia)
- Brown pallets: pool IPP (IPP Logipal from Europe)
I do not advise to use them, especially for indoor use. You may find traces of formaldehyde and other resins used in the composite blocks. Also, the chances are that they have been used to transport chemicals.
Note: No chemical treatments or hazardous materials are used on PECO pallets (Red Pallets), and all lumber products used to construct and repair PECO pallets are regularly tested by an independent third party inspector. You can find more information at PECO Pallet. So, the red pallets from PECO should be safe to use for your DIY project.
Also, keep in mind that pallets are often used for international shipping, and while most countries use an NPPO/IPPC code, not all countries do, and such countries may not comply with international standards.
If you follow this advice and do not use unknown pallets as a food cutting board or a headboard or anything placed in your house and near you, you should be safe to use pallets for your projects.
Remember that you should always use a mask to keep you from breathing in particles and pollutants (just as for any work involving cutting or sanding wood).
To be safe, one of the most important thing to remember is that when you cannot establish if the pallet you have is safe or not, DO NOT USE IT for indoor projects such as a headboard, coffee table or another kind of furniture unless it comes from a trusted source. In this case, only use it for outdoor projects where you will not be in contact with the pallet too often and avoid growing food on or near used pallet wood. For your own safety (and your family's), and for the sake of our planet, never burn pallet wood or treated lumber in your fireplace (or even in outdoors).
Here are some links of interest:
That's it; now you have all the necessary information to start you pallet quest! If you have more information, please contact us and we will update this page.
To easily remember all these information and codes, here is a visual infographic, we hope it will be useful.
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For Australian readers, please read this message sent by one of our reader from Australia:
I thought I would let you know for your Australian readers that some heat treated packaging entering Australia is also fumigated with methyl bromide. I recently got some large shipping crates from work that had heat stamps on all timber, so I assumed it was safe. After using the timber to build a few things I found out from one of work's project team it had been Mb treated on arrival to Australia. It turns out Aussie Customs still use it quite a bit. Wish they would restamp it as such. So I would not trust any imported pallet in Australia thanks to Customs.
One of our readers from New-Zealand told us that they have the same problem with pallets likely to have been treated with methyl bromide, so if you are from New Zealand, do take care as well.
Pallets arriving in New-Zealand will be treated with methyl bromide too, so your warning for Australia should be expanded to New-Zealand.
And, if you want to learn more about pallets, just read our article on the history of pallets and how they play an important role in the history of our economy.
Need information on pallet sizes around the world? Take a look at our article on this subject! If you want to know what pallets are made out of, you can read our article "What the heck pallets are made out of?."
And if you need some tips and places where to find pallets, visit our page that will give you some advice and some areas shared by our readers.
Now, you have found your wooden pallets, and you have checked that your pallets are safe for re-use? The first step is to dismantle them, and you can check our seven methods to dismantle your pallets quickly with or without tools. Then, you will need to check if you have all the tools needed for any pallet project and finally learn how to prepare your pallet for painting with this article on the 17 things you need to know before painting a wooden pallet.