What Role Does The IPPC Play In The Pallet Industry?

The International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC) is an international agreement that was established in 1952 and registered with the United Nations. It now has 183 signatories, which accounts for virtually every major country in the world, and today operates under the auspices of the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation.

The motivation behind the formulation of this agreement was the need to reduce the spread of plant diseases and pests around the world. The technical term for its activities is ‘phytosanitary’. Its jurisdiction is not limited to natural flora and cultivated plants but extends to all manner of plant products, which includes the millions of wooden pallets used every day in the movement of goods around countries and across national borders.

The consequences of unregulated use of standard and non-standard pallets

International trade is bigger than it has ever been with the advancement of digital technology. It means the speed of its movement is increasing all the time. Controls on traded goods are rigorous but it is too easy to overlook the potential harms that are carried not in the goods themselves but in the materials used to transport them. Wooden pallets are plant products and unless properly treated according to phytosanitary best practices to neutralise the presence of pests that subsist in the wood, they can transmit devastating and destructive pests to all corners of the globe. For an illustration as to what this can mean, we only have to look back a few decades to the serious outbreak of Dutch elm disease in the UK caused by elm bark beetles which were accidentally imported from Canada on logs, saplings and even crates. Millions of trees died as a result. In more fragile ecosystems, the results could have been even more serious.

That episode is a salutary reminder of the importance of the IPPC’s enforcement of International Phytosanitary Measures (ISPMs) which specifically addresses the problem of harmful organisms that exist in the wood used in packaging. One particular measure, ISPM-15 deals with this directly and therefore applies to the manufacture, treatment and recycling of both standard and non-standard pallets.

 The IPPC and the pallet industry

Wooden pallets are required to undergo heat and chemical treatment to kill any of the pests and micro-organisms which thrive inside the wood. If the manufacturer of standard or non-standard pallets is found to be in breach of its obligations, it can face substantial fines. However, this liability is not confined to manufacture alone – carriers too can be penalised severely for using inadequately treated pallets. This is why it is vital for every freight carrier to know whether the company from which it sources its pallets is fulfilling its obligations. Not only is it necessary for the health of the environment, but the discovery of non-compliant pallets can also cause lengthy delays at border control and result in hefty fines. Every standard or non-standard pallet you use should be clearly marked with a stamp that confirms ISPM-15 compliance. Even if a pallet has been correctly treated, if it does not carry the validating stamp, it will not be allowed to cross the border. Untreated pallets are likely to be cheaper, but it simply is not worth the risk.

Beware too of the perils of recycling, because one of the provisions of the IPPC is that even correctly treated pallets must undergo the process again when they are used again. The original ISPM-15 mark must be erased, the pallet treated a second time and then stamped with a fresh mark. Once again, it might seem cheaper and easier not to observe this, and it’s true that untreated recycled pallets may escape detection but equally, it is a significant risk. Besides, it is hugely irresponsible to take chances not just with your own company’s fortunes but with the health of the environment.

The IPPC has a long history of effectiveness in developing and applying phytosanitary standards. Rather than a bureaucratic obstacle to the smooth movement of goods around the world, it should be seen as an example of truly international cooperation in protecting the natural world and the ecosystem that relies on it. Even the humble pallet has a part to play.

Author: mayank

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