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

Are my pallets safe to Use?

Every time we run a post showing a new use for pallets, we get lots of comments about pallets not being safe to use. Never has an industry suffered from so many myths. Yes, there are pallets treated with methyl bromide, but in most countries, these are now hard to find.

Safe or dangerous?
Safe or dangerous?

Specifically, pallets treated with methyl bromide are banned in Australia, New Zealand, Europe and Canada (and probably many other countries). Methyl bromide is banned because it is a dangerous chemical – dangerous to both people and the environment. Work health and safety regulations in the above countries preclude the handling of pallets treated with this poison. Instead, pallets are either heat treated, or untreated.

Pallets Fact and Fiction

So let’s start with a basic premise… every pallet is safe to use BUT it depends on what you intend to use it for!  Various pyrethrins and the fungicide, propiconazole are common treatments for timber pallets. It’s also possible that harmful materials or chemicals may have been spilled on the pallet timber and been absorbed by it during use. Is that bad? Well, not if you intend to use the pallet as a fence and grow flowers in it. Vegetables, on the other hand, may be a concern.

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OK – so how do you know which is which.

If the pallet has been made for export, it will, in almost all cases, be heat treated. Heat treatment (56°C for softwood and 60°C for hardwood) is effective at killing any pests that may have taken up residence in the timber. Note again that there is always the possibility that something toxic has been spilt on a pallet. For this reason, it makes sense to know what the pallet has carried or, at least, where the pallet has come from.

Domestic grade, single use pallets
Domestic grade, single use pallets

There are two types of pallets – one time use and multiple use. One time use pallets are typically made of cheap softwood while multiple use pallets are usually made from hardwood, or increasingly, from plastics and composites. Examples of one-time use pallets are those used by furniture manufacturers, white good manufacturers and board manufacturers. Examples of multiple use pallets are of those used by brick or paver manufacturers and heavy industry. These pallets are easy to recognise as they have coloured edges. They are also usually branded as being the property of the “XYZ Ltd”.

Multi-use, branded pallets
Multi-use, branded pallets

How do I know my pallet has not been treated with methyl bromide?

There are 500 million pallets made in the USA alone each year! How many would China make? Or Europe? Obviously, some of these pallets will not be safe to use – perhaps many. But that leaves vast numbers that are safe to use in your projects. So how do you tell the difference? If you haven’t realised it yet, I’m about to share a secret with you… we live in a global economy.

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