Will UK distributors face a pallet crisis if no-deal Brexit?

June 18 2019

Will UK distributors face a pallet crisis if no-deal Brexit?

Earlier this year, The Guardian newspaper raised an “unpalatable” warning concerning the distribution industry.

It reported that in the event of a no-deal Brexit, palletised goods could be prevented from transiting between the UK and the EU due to a “dire shortage of the ‘right-sort’ of pallet to import and export goods”.

“If the UK leaves the EU without a deal the overwhelming majority of wooden pallets, used to transport a vast range of consumer goods from breakfast cereal to pet food, beer and chocolate, will not meet strict EU rules designed to stop the spread of bark beetles and other pests.” (Source: The Guardian).

The UK government warned distributors that all timber packaging, including pallets, destined for EU countries after a no-deal Brexit must be heat-treated or fumigated to comply with International Standards For Phytosanitary (Regarding Plants) Measures 15 (ISPM 15).

Because the stricter rules are not applied to trade between EU member states, many UK pallets and crates are therefore not ready for the new rules if Britain leaves without a deal that keeps current arrangements intact.

More than 3m pallets move between the UK and EU every month.

Many UK food and drink exporters are unaware they could be crippled by a shortage of suitable pallets. If pallets do not comply with the legislation and are prevented from transiting between the UK and the 27 EU countries, millions of tonnes of goods will be affected.

In July of this year, the president of The Timber Packaging & Pallet Confederation (TIMCON), John Dye, issued this response to the news story:

“While we are supportive of a negotiated deal, we are planning for every eventuality. Scaremongering in the media such as this is a distraction to the good work and discussions we’ve held on the possible outcomes of Brexit to date,” he said. “Thanks to this, the negative impacts described in this article are highly unlikely. Everyone is working to mitigate the situation – as it’s simply not in anyone’s interest for this to happen.”

Also responding to the story, a Defra spokesperson said:

“In the event of a non-negotiated exit from the EU, it is essential that we are able to maintain protection against plant pests and diseases while ensuring as frictionless trade as possible at the border. Defra, the Forestry Commission and other relevant UK plant health authorities are working closely with the WPM sector who understand what actions they will need to take to manage this new requirement in a no-deal scenario. We are working with our European counterparts to seek assurances that they will adopt a similarly pragmatic approach in the event of a no deal”.

One pallet maker has said the UK lacks the capacity to make pallets compliant at short notice, making delays, cancellations and cost increase inevitable.

He told Yahoo Finance UK:

“Wooden pallets are the norm for most small imported and exported goods so this could be a significant issue if firms can’t source compliant pallets or other alternative…The lack of awareness of this issue will be critical to determining its impact. At the moment many businesses are unaware that this could be an issue so do not yet realise they need to prepare”. (Source: Yahoo Finance UK).

Another source within the industry remarks:

“In 2011-12, the topic of EU-wide ISPM15 compliance was debated within the European wood packaging industry, but the initiative was not embraced”.

“Since that time there has been evidence of invasive plant pest outbreaks in both France and Germany, so it could be argued that inspections at our border ports are necessary if the UK is serious about protecting the health of our forestry.

Undoubtedly, climate change is beginning to provide warmer environments where forestry will become more susceptible to colonisation by non-indigenous plant pests, and many expect that a programme for the implementation of fully compliant ISPM15 WPM will become necessary for all pan-European shipments within 5 years” (Source: Shaw Pallet)

Is it time we moved from wood to plastic pallets for our supply chains?
Plastic Pallet versus wooden pallets


(Image Source: www.goplasticpallets.com)

With the overwhelming evidence of single-use plastic damaging our environment, and the concern for the protection of our forests, pallets made from recycled plastic waste material could be a solve-all option. The folks at www.goplasticpallets.com certainly think so. They argue that plastic pallets are,

“Cleaner, safer and more economic, we believe returnable plastic transit packaging is the superior choice for your supply chain”.

They go on to highlight the benefits of plastic pallets.

•         Designed for the application
•         100% size and strength consistency
•         10 times more durable than wooden pallets
•         Maximum return on investment
•         Recyclable, environmentally friendly
•         Exempt from ISPM15 regulations
•         Safer manual handling – no nails or splinters
•         Suitable for hygienic areas
•         Easy to wash and keep clean
•         No mould or dust contamination issues
•         Impervious to moisture, weak acids and alkalis
•         Space and cost-saving
•         Customisable

(Source: GoPlasticPallets.com)

Whilst no-one can predict the outcome of the Brexit negotiations, PDX is actively looking at heat treated wooden pallets versus recycled plastic pallets. This is our response not only to the potential for a change in regulation but also because of our environmental responsibilities.

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