Okay, so maybe it isn’t the most riveting topic on the planet. Here’s the thing though, so many pallets are free for the taking. They are an incredible resource to use for all sorts of projects. Every so often, I’d like to post about a pallet project. Before I can do that, we have to be on the same page. One of the most important things is knowing if the pallets are safe to use.
Well, first off is condition. Some places will give away whole pallets, but more often they give away pallets that have been damaged in some way. For most projects, this is entirely acceptable. With that said, avoid pallets that seem to have had something spilled on them. The best case scenario is that it is something harmless, but soaked in. Worst case scenario is that it is something toxic. Don’t take the risk.
Now that we’ve weeded out all of those pallets, what comes next? Determine if the pallet is national or international. National pallets won’t have any stamps in most cases, leaving it up to you to be aware of what it is made of and where it comes from. Thankfully, very few national pallets are chemical or pressure treated or otherwise dangerous. Be aware of who was using it and for what purpose. More details are better just to be safe, but in most cases these will be universally useful to you.
So then there are international pallets. The image above shows the typical stamp found on these pallets. Firstly, if you don’t see the IPPC symbol, don’t use it. When it is absent, you have no way to be sure of what chemicals were used to treat the lumber. The other major thing to watch for are the treatment codes. DB means debarked, HT means it was heat treated, and MB means it was treated with methyl-bromide fumigation. The first two are safe, but that last one should be avoided. It’s been banned in places like Canada due to the health risks.
Sometimes the above stamp won’t be there or will have an additional stamp listing EUR and/or EPAL. Those stamped with just EUR alone should be avoided, as they come from the older system. Those with EPAL or both are only heat treated and safe for use. Technically some may exist without any marking at all, but are considered to be single-use and aren’t treated with chemicals.
The last sort of pallet you might notice are those that are colored (with or without additional stamping). They have three options; red, blue and brown. Each has a meaning, but here’s my take on the situation. You can’t be sure if they were treated with formaldehyde or other such nasty things and the traces of those can remain. While they are often said to be okay for outside use, I would rather you just avoid using them at all if you can help it.
So now you have an idea about how to gauge the safety of a pallet for use in your projects. I’ve seen sheds, decorative cabinets, pig fencing and all sorts of other things crafted using these. It’s a really great resource if you can find a good supply of them for cheap or free. Even if you don’t use them for crafting, they can also make excellent firewood.