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Happy New Year in International Packaging
This year promises to be exciting on the export pallet front as the world move closer to a global standard. Dr. Brindley discusses the likely changes coming down the road.

By Dr. Ed Brindley
Date Posted: 1/7/2002

Happy New Year! Pest management, which has become a hot international transport packaging issue, is once again raising its head. The EU emergency measure issued last summer had pallet manufacturers scrambling out of concern that hardwood wooden pallets and boxes destined for the EU might have to be treated by Oct. 2001. Conflicting signals made it difficult to know the facts for sure. Upon further review, it became clear that hardwood export pallets would not be included in the October deadline.

Long range plans called for the development of an international standard covering both softwood and hardwood solidwood packaging. Most experts and government officials indicated that an international standard would not be implemented until sometime in 2003 if not later. The International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC) released a draft standard early in 2001 for review by member countries. After receiving comments from the international community, IPPC issued a revised standard in November 2001.

The proposed international standard states, "These guidelines are for coniferous and non-coniferous raw wood packaging material that poses a threat to living trees. They cover wood packaging material such as pallets, dunnage, crating, packing blocks, drums, cases, load boards, pallet collars, and skids."

The IPPC will hold its annual meeting in late March where it should vote on this new proposed standard. It is my understanding that it takes a unanimous agreement from the nations to adopt a new standard, and that the IPPC meets only once a year. Therefore, without unanimous consent it might be another year before an agreement could be reached. If the IPPC approves the guidelines, countries could begin implementing the restrictions after a several month notification period. However, countries will likely take one or two years to implement the regulations because few if any have the treatment capacity to handle the demand.

After an agreement is reached, it is up to each individual country to establish its own operational practices. But nobody knows for sure how long it will take for the international standard to take effect and impact both hardwood and softwood packaging markets.

Under the marking section of the new agreement, it states "recycled, remanufactured or repaired wood packaging material should be re-certified and re-marked. All components of such material should have been treated. Old marks should be removed or covered." While it may be needed, this requirement will complicate the process of reusing transport packaging for additional export applications.

Keep in mind that heat treatment is not the only approved method of treating. In addition to the 56C for a minimum of 30 minutes heat treatment option, the agreement states, "kiln drying, chemical pressure impregnation, or other treatments may be considered HT treatments to the extent that these meet the HT specifications." Methyl bromide fumigation is accepted with a minimum temperature of 10C and minimum exposure time of 16 hours (some countries require a higher minimum temperature).

The jury is still out, but it seems to be a good bet that hardwood transport packaging will fall under the treatment umbrella in the not too distant future. In a future issue, we will feature this export packaging issue in greater detail.

We are living in a world of change. Export packaging may seem trivial to those not in our industry. But to pallet and transport packaging companies it is very important. The whole international arena promises to be a more important part of our industry. International standards and practices are likely to influence packaging decisions of worldwide companies. These in turn may influence materials handling systems on a domestic basis as well.

Happy New Year! We may not like the changes taking place in the world around us, but we can always try to turn them into opportunities. International packaging changes will offer promises to some, headaches to others.

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