Saturday, June 15, 2013

Scavenging Heat-Treated Pallets

I'm planning to build more raised vegetable beds and I need some scrap wood for the project. It seems ludicrous to say that I need scrap wood because I have PILES AND PILES of scrap wood in my materials yard (a fancy name for my scrap heap). But nearly every piece of lumber out there is treated wood, which means it was soaked in some fairly nasty chemicals to keep it from rotting. Most folks recommend using untreated wood for vegetable garden applications so that there is no risk of chemicals leaching out of the treated wood and being taken up by the veggies. I've read some sources that say that while that is plausible in theory, in reality it doesn't happen. I am not here to argue- I just don't know- but I decided I'd just make my beds out of untreated wood and then I never have to worry about it.

One way to score some free wood is to get old shipping pallets, which are easy to find for free. A lot of pallets (most, it seems) are made of treated wood but some are heat treated instead. You can easily identify which are heat treated because they will be stamped "HT" like this:

 or this:

New pallets have to be stamped with a country code (the ones above were made in the US and the one below in Mexico) followed by a number identifying the plant followed by either "HT" for heat treated, "DB" for debarked (this is also a safe type of pallet to use) or "MB" for chemically treated with methyl bromide. It is the MB's that you want to avoid. 

I found two of those pallets at my local feed store. Most of the pallets in their stack were not marked so I grabbed the only two marked "HT". Later the guy at the feed store told me that the heat treated ones are the only ones that the shipping companies will take back. Feed stores are a good place to look for pallets, as is any store that receives shipments of heavy items. The shipments are unloaded off the trucks by forklift, which requires a pallet on bottom. The pallets I used to make my compost bin came from a pool supply store. (Pool supply stores carry a lot of heavy 5-gallon buckets of chemicals.) Other places to check might be paint stores, grocery stores, and hardware stores.

I always ask permission before taking pallets even if they are next to the dumpster. Most places are happy to get rid of them. I also see pallets listed in the "free" section of Craigslist all the time.

Where do you guys find pallets? Do you look for the heat treated or debarked ones? I'm going to need quite a few for my veggie bed project so I'm on the prowl.


  1. Oh, man. I haven't been checking. I'm scared to go look at my strawberry pallet to see if it's the dreaded MB....

    I find mine usually on CL - and then I just go pick them up. It's hard with a sedan, though, because they don't fit, so I usually just strap them to the roof. I also have a guy just down the street who sometimes has them so it's a bonus! I barter him chicken eggs for use of his truck. Win win!

  2. Finally, a post on pallets that is useful. I'm not looking to make anything with pallets right now; I just appreciate one that is for a project where pallets make a lot of sense, and you've got information that's important.

  3. Thanks, Rita. I'm glad it was useful. Useful=Good
    Lindsey- I know. I never thought about the treated wood thing when I made my pallet composter. I went out and checked and the pallets I used are unmarked, which means they are probably treated. Sigh. Nice barter you got going there, btw!

  4. Pallets should be heat treated during International Trade, in order to meet the ISPM 15 standards. It helps to reduce the risk factor of transferring of exotic organism from one place to another during shipping goods.

  5. My pallet only says "HT audited by TP". There is no IPPC symbol. Is it safe to use as a gardening pallet?

    1. It also has the number 4578

  6. Where can I find it besides "feed stores"


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