The timber packaging sector is facing tough competition from manufacturers of plastic pallets.

In December 2004 one manufacturer wrote to the European Commission stating the case for plastic pallets, and got a positive response. Worryingly, the UK’s Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), also seemed inclined to back the use of plastic pallets over timber.

Recently, though, we have had assurance from environment minister Elliot Morley that he has no intention of promoting the use of plastic pallets over wooden ones.

The concerns of the EU and Defra are with the use of methyl bromide as a means of fumigating timber pallets to meet the ISPM 15 phytosanitary standard. Methyl bromide is an ozone depleting substance, and its use has been banned in developed countries.

This concern is understandable, but must be seen in context and should not be used as a reason for reducing the use of timber pallets. Timber pallets – new and reconditioned – are more commonly heat-treated on manufacture, or manufactured from heat-treated components in order to meet the ISPM 15 standard.

No other packaging material can compete with timber’s combination of safety, economy and environmental benefits.

We have made Defra aware of this, and also of the importance of the wood pallet and packaging industry to the UK’s econ-omy. Over 50 million timber pallets are produced in the UK each year and two million m3 of timber is consumed in this sector. Approximately 30% of the output of British sawmills goes into the pallet and packaging sector; employment in the sawmilling sector is often concentrated in small rural communities and is very important to the social structure.

The entire sector is united in lobbying the UK government and the European Commission, and TIMCON is working with the National Association of Pallet Distributors, UK Forest Products Associationand the Forestry Commission in the UK and with FEFPEB in Europe.