Wood packaging: requirements for imports and exports
Legal and environmental rules and requirements for wooden crates, drums and pallets being used to import and export goods.
Wood is widely used as a packaging material in international trade. Due to the risks of introducing and spreading tree pests, strict controls on wood packaging, both for imports and exports, are enforced. If you don’t conform to these requirements, your entire consignment could be rejected or even destroyed.
Wood packaging means any kind of wood used anywhere in packing, such as packing cases, boxes, crates, drums and similar packing, pallets, box pallets and other load boards and pallet collars. It also includes dunnage - loose wood used to protect goods and their packaging and to stop cargoes from shifting during transit. There are specific environmental and other requirements for wood packaging, in addition to any standard requirements for importing packaged goods or packing materials into the UK.
Every destination country will also have its own import requirements with which you must also comply if you’re exporting packaged products. This guide explains these requirements and shows how to import wood packaging into the UK and what rules there are for importing goods into the UK packed in wood packaging.
Requirements for exports using wood packaging
In general, manufacturers of wood packaging must meet the International Standards for Phytosanitary Measures 15 (ISPM15), as this is the standard most commonly used around the world.
If you use ISPM15-compliant wood packaging for export, it must meet the requirements of the country where it was manufactured (or repaired), and it will also need to meet the requirements of the destination country.
Destination country import requirements
If you’re despatching goods to another country within the European Union (EU) there are no additional controls or standards, other than the presumption that any packaging made from wood produced in EU member states automatically complies with European Community internal plant health regulations.
Exporters to Portugal are encouraged to use ISPM15 compliant wood packaging to enable its subsequent re-use out of Portugal. This is because of emergency measures against the spread of Pine Wood Nematode present there.
Requirements vary from country to country - so before exporting any goods with wood packaging material to any non-EU country, you should check whether they are party to ISPM15 and whether or not they have additional requirements.
You can find import requirements for different countries in the global guide. Alternatively, you can contact the country’s embassy or the National Plant Protection Organisation (NPPO) in that country. You can find regional plant protection organisations.
The following types of wood packaging may have different requirements or may be exempt from any particular standard or requirement:
- wood less than 6 millimetres thick is exempt from any requirement
- wood packaging material comprised wholly of manufactured wood products such as plywood, particle board, oriented strand board, chipboard or similar is exempt from any requirement in some countries
- barrels for wine and spirit
- gift boxes for wine, cigars and other commodities made from wood that has been processed in some way that renders it free from pests
Buying and importing wood packaging
If you’re buying or importing wood packaging you must make sure it conforms to legal requirements or you risk your shipment being destroyed or returned.
Wood packaging manufactured in the UK
Wood packaging manufactured in the UK and intended for export outside the EU must comply with ISPM15. You can read guidance on Packaging Essential Requirements Regulations.
Imported packaging and essential requirements
In addition to the requirements for wood packaging, all packaging imported into the UK must meet essential requirements for packaging, which are concerned with environmental standards and minimising the amount of packaging and waste. You can find guidance to the Essential Requirements for Packaging.
Wood packaging acquired from within the EU
Wood packaging brought into the UK from other EU countries or Switzerland must be bark-free or kiln-dried and marked “KD” to meet the EU Protected Zone requirements set out in the EU Plant Health Directive. Alternatively, it must be ISPM15 compliant.
All wood packaging exported from Portugal must either be ISPM15 compliant or otherwise marked to show that it was manufactured in another EU member state. All wood packaging exported from Portugal must be ISPM15 compliant, regardless of origin. Checks will be carried out by Plant Health Inspectors and any non-compliant wood packaging is liable to be destroyed.
Imported wood packaging from outside the EU
If you import wood packaging material from outside the EU or Switzerland, it must be ISPM15 compliant.
There are no tests that show whether wood has been properly treated. However, the presence of any living insects in the wood can be taken to mean that it hasn’t been treated, and any wood packaging material with living insects mustn’t be re-used but should be destroyed (or treated by an approved facility and re-marked).
Dunnage is loose wood used as packing material around and between the cargo. It must be ISPM15 compliant and each piece must be marked.
Requirements for imports using wood packaging
If the goods you import are to be packed in wooden packaging, you should check that the packaging is compliant with ISPM15. There are no tests that show whether wood has been properly treated. The presence of any living insects in the wood can be taken to mean that it wasn’t treated and any wood packaging material with living insects must not be re-used but should be destroyed (or treated by an approved facility and re-marked).
Dunnage may be used with cargos of sawn wood (eg in the form of bearers, stickers, spacers etc). Only dunnage that meets the requirements of ISPM15 is allowed to enter the European Union. Material that is not ISPM15 compliant could be destroyed by burning or re-exported.
However, dunnage such as bearers, stickers and spacers which are integrated or banded into cargoes of regulated wood does not need to be marked to ISPM15 standards because the phytosanitary certificate will cover the whole consignment.
For bearers and stickers etc. made from non-manufactured wood products and greater than 6 millimetres thickness which are integrated or banded into cargoes of non-regulated wood - eg tropical hardwoods, plywood and other wood panel products - as well as all dunnage associated with any other type of cargo, must be ISPM15 compliant and marked, regardless of whether they are a regulated species or not.
Imported goods using wood packaging may be inspected by the Forestry Commission. Should a consignment fail the inspection, the importer will have to bear the cost of the one or more of the following steps, any of which the Forestry Commission may require you to:
- arrange return of the shipment
- arrange treatment and marking of the wood packaging to meet ISPM15 requirements
- arrange destruction of the non-compliant wood packaging
- arrange return of the non-compliant wood packaging and, if deemed necessary, the goods associated with it
Should you be given the option to choose treatment, you can find a company authorised to carry out treatment to ISPM15.
Notifying the authorities about infestations
If you find any infested wood packaging, you must notify the Forestry Commission. You can find contact details. Be aware that it’s an offence if you don’t notify the authorities of the presence or likely presence of tree pests.
Essential requirements for packaging
If you import packed goods, which include goods packaged with wood packaging, as well as goods with retail packaging, then you need to comply with the essential requirements for packaging. You can find guidance to the essential requirements for packaging.
Reusing and returning used wood packaging
Wood packaging material that hasn’t been changed or altered in any way may be reused either within the European Union or for exports to other countries with ISPM15 import requirements. Wood packaging material that has been repaired, remanufactured or altered in any way must have all original marks obliterated before being re-treated and re-marked at an authorised facility. You can find a company authorised to carry out treatment to ISPM15.
If you see an ISPM15 mark which doesn’t appear to have all the necessary information, you should seek advice from the Forestry Commission or the Forest Service before re-using the wood packaging material. You can find contact details for the Forestry Commission.
Returning wood packaging to the supplier
Phytosanitary certificates are no longer needed for wood packaging in use if international marking standards are met, but are still required for wood products and consignments of wood packaging being returned to the supplier. You can get export certification guidance.
Wood treating and marking requirements
To minimise the spread of pests, ISPM15 specifies requirements for treatment and marking of wood packaging that have now been adopted by close to 200 countries ISPM15 covers pallets, cases, crates, as well as dunnage (loose packing or wedges) that are manufactured from non-man made wooden materials.
To achieve compliance, wood without its bark must undergo heat treatment which must be carried out to an agreed standard and by an approved source. Only after a prescribed treatment can wood be marked in the prescribed manner as being ISPM15 compliant.
National wood packaging and marking programmes must be governed by the National Plant Protection Organisation. In England, Scotland and Wales this is the Forestry Commission and in Northern Ireland it’s the Forest Service of the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development.
The only current approved measure for wood treatment is heat treatment where the wood is treated to a minimum temperature of 56ºC for at least 30 minutes (HT) throughout the profile of the wood.
Wood treated in accordance with ISPM15 should be marked with:
- the IPPC logo for wood packaging material
- the ISO two-digit code for the country of manufacture
- a unique producer code assigned by the National Plant Protection Organisation
- the appropriate treatment code, HT (for Heat Treatment)
- no other information is permitted in the mark which must be contained within a border
All marks must be permanent and legible and appear on at least two opposite vertical surfaces. Some countries permit repairs to be made using treated wood carrying the ISPM15 mark identifying where and by whom the repair was carried out.
The following types of wood packaging material don’t need to be treated and marked:
- solid wood less than 6 millimetres thick
- manufactured wood products such as plywood, particle board, oriented strand board, chipboard
- barrels for wine and spirit
- gift boxes for wine, cigars and other commodities which have been processed in some way to remove pest risk
However, some countries may have other controls in place, and you should check with the destination country before exporting.
Using a freight forwarder or packing service to help you comply with wood packaging requirements
A freight forwarder or packing service can help you to comply with the requirements for wood packaging.
Freight forwarding services
A freight forwarder may offer wood packaging services, such as:
- packaging your goods onto pallets
- packaging your goods into crates
- making and packing crates to order
They can take care of all the wood packaging requirements for you. You may want to take the availability of wood packaging services into account when choosing a freight forwarder. You must make sure that your chosen freight forwarder is regulation compliant. You can find a list of British International Freight Association packers or find a directory of packers who are actively registered as compliant with ISMP15.
As well as arranging the transport of your goods - whether by air, sea, rail or road - and packaging services, freight forwarders frequently provide other services in areas such as:
- customs clearance
- export documentation
- other supply-chain services
Most forwarders will manage specific parts of the process for you - only a few companies offer to oversee the entire transport process. Many transport and logistics operators also offer freight-forwarding services.
You can also find others who offer a packing service independently of freight forwarding. Therefore, whether or not you use a freight forwarder, you may also want to consider using a packing service.
Alternatives to wood packaging
Your choice of freight forwarder and method of transportation may influence the choice of packaging although, generally speaking, your choice of packing will be largely influenced by the type and volume of goods that you’re shipping.
Although it can be tempting to try to avoid wood packaging altogether, there are practical reasons why wooden pallets and crates are so widely used. They are:
- convenient - they can be handled easily by standard warehousing equipment such as forklift trucks
- environmentally friendly - trees planted for wood packaging timber absorb immense quantities of CO2
- flexible - it’s relatively easy to build timber packaging to the perfect size and performance required
- cost-effective - timber is far cheaper than other packaging materials
- safe - timber pallets perform better than plastic in a fire
- reusable - timber pallets generally last for eight trips and can then be repaired to extend their life
- recyclable - timber pallets can be recycled to repair other pallets or for chipboard, animal bedding, fuel, garden chips and mulch
See the guide on how to save money by reducing, reusing and recycling waste for more information.
Support and advice
The organisation with primary responsibility for providing trade support for importers and exporters using wood packaging for Great Britain is the Forestry Commission. You can download export certification guidance.
The government organisation with primary responsibility for providing trade support for Northern Ireland is the Forest Service. You can find contact details for the Forest Service NI.
The government organisation with responsibility for providing trade support for the essential requirements for packaging is the Environment Agency.
You can obtain help from the Environment and Energy Helpline on Telephone: 0800 585 794.
Wood packaging and treatment trade associations and other bodies
Trade associations and other support organisations for the sector include:
- The TIMCON is the UK National Trade Association representing the interests of the timber packaging industry - you can find import requirements for different countries in the global guide or find a directory of packers who are actively registered as compliant with International Standards of Phytosanitary Measures (ISMP)15
- The National Association of Pallet Distributors (NAPD) promotes the repair and recycling of pallets to the highest standards - you can find companies who can provide treated packaging, and can purchase, dispose of or recycle pallets
- The United Kingdom Forest Products Association (UKFPA) represents the technical and commercial interests of the forest products industry - you can search for information and advice
- The British International Freight Association (BIFA) is the primary body representing the UK international freight services industry - you can find a list of British International Freight Association packers
Forestry Commission Plant Health Enquiry Line
Telephone: 0131 314 6414
British Pest Control Association
Telephone: 0870 6092687
Telephone: 0116 264 0579
Envirowise Advice Line
Telephone: 0800 585 794