Using Timber Pallets In Your Garden

Mar 28, 2017

Lately we’re getting some people contacting us concerned that we’re using timber pallets in helping to establish some of our food gardens. They’re worried that we’re using chemically treated pallets that will leach into our soils, contaminating the plants that we eat. And fair enough – have you seen how many pallets we’re using to stabilise our earth berms??!!

IMG_8111Two out of three of our earth berms we’re using timber pallets to stabilise the soil and plant into. 

Many, many, many pallets are finding their way off building sites and furniture store’s skip bins into our garden. This winter we’re planting our edible forest gardens into them – so we really appreciate your concern.

But fear not folks – the good news is we don’t use chemically treated pallets *at all*, only heat treated ones. Here’s a brief overview of what type of pallets are out there and how to know which ones to choose. Thanks to 1001 pallets for summarising all the facts that I’m drawing on for this particular blog.

The basics of pallet identification

1001pallets.com-how-to-tell-if-a-pallet-is-safe-for-reuse-6Image from 1001 pallets

When you’re identifying what type of pallet you’re looking at, 1001 Pallets recommend looking for two main things:

.

*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.


1001pallets.com-how-to-tell-if-a-pallet-is-safe-for-reuse-7

1001pallets.com-how-to-tell-if-a-pallet-is-safe-for-reuseImage form 1001 Pallets

We only pick up pallets with the “HT” stamp on them as seen below – this is 100% safe to use. This particular photo is from when we built of rather beautiful and highly functional chook house all from pallets and all perfectly safe for our chooks to live in.

2014-03-27-09.35.09Note the HT stamp above – this is what you’re looking for. 

Heat Treated

Heat treated (HT) pallets are “built to break”, meaning they’ll start to break down within 5 years’ish as they’re not treated with any chemicals to preserve them.

.

[They] 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.

A word of caution: If you notice liquids spilt onto the pallet, don’t use it as it could be a harmful substance you really don’t want near your veggie patch. Better to be safe than sorry and considering there’s approximately a **g’zillion** pallets out there, you can afford to be picky.

IMG_8105

Above you can see Anton planting out comfrey roots into the pallets which will eventually take over the pallet’s role in stablising the slope with its deep tap roots. The pallets are temporary and will break down in place. We wont bother trying to remove them, instead they’ll return to the soil – much better than ending up in landfill.

What if there’s no stamp on the pallet?

While it might be fine, we say leave it – the risk of contaminating your soil is not worth the risk.

Want to know more?

If you’d like to read up more, head on over to 1001 Pallets who’ve obviously dedicated enormous hours into researching everything pallets!

your thoughts:

14 Comments

  1. Isaac

    Great information, thank you.

    Reply
  2. Sue

    I read that customs still fumigates these pallets with Methyl Bromide when importing. Can you confirm or refute that rumour?

    Reply
    • Hannah Moloney

      Hi Sue :-). This goes against everything we’ve researched and discussed with people. So I would be *very* surprised if there’s any truth in that. Our understanding is that if they treat it with Methyl Bromide than they HAVE to put the “MP” stamp on it. This is an international requirement. We wouldn’t use them if we thought there was any risk of this being true.

      Reply
      • Lu

        It is true, I work at a pallet manufacturing company.

        However methyl bromide is used as a pesticide in food production so I doubt it’s as harmful as people say it is. I would be more concerned about the plethora of bugs that timber attracts.

        Reply
        • Hannah Moloney

          Hi Lu, If you’re growing organically then it would be a concern to have in food production. Re bugs: We don’t have termites in Tasmania so there’s no detrimental attraction of bugs – only desirable fungus :-).

          Reply
      • Stacey

        Hi Hannah,

        All imported containers into Australia are fumigated about 6 months of the year (usually September to April / May). This means that whilst the pallets in the containers aren’t directly ‘treated’, they get fumigated along with everything else as collateral and aren’t re-stamped. Unfortunately this means you can never really be sure that the pallets in Australia haven’t actually been in contact with chemicals you don’t want around you, even going by the stamps on the pallets. Unless of course you buy them directly from the manufacturer, before they have been used for import / export.

        – Stacey

        Reply
        • Hannah Moloney

          Hi Stacey – I’d love to read more about this if you’re able to provide a reference? For our garden I’m not worried as the pallets we’ve used have all been domestic HT ones. Cheers.

          Reply
  3. Baden

    Lovely ethical signalling guys, thanks for the info also!

    Reply
  4. Nicole

    Thanks for your generous posts. Great information and real life stories.

    Reply
    • Hannah Moloney

      Pleasure Nicole – glad you’re enjoying them!

      Reply
  5. ian

    I have a pallet that looks like it was reassembled and has pieces of wood with both the HT and MB stamps on them (seperately on each of the pieces, not both in the same place). Is this something that happens? Is there a way to check if wood has been MB treated aside from the stamp?

    Reply
    • Hannah Moloney

      I’ve never seen that Ian. Just look for the pallets that are just HT timber to be safe 🙂

      Reply
  6. Kiran Patel

    Hello there

    what types of palin pallets codes to be used for grading?

    Thanks

    Reply
  7. Laura Clout

    Very useful. Thanks.
    After what you say about MB, would it be desirable to put a membrane between the compost and pallets if using to make a compost heap then? And what about making a mud kitchen with them? Would that be safe?
    Thanks

    Reply

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