(Jan. 25) Wood pallet vendors might face additional costs and hassles as a new heat treatment rule approaches, but the U.S. produce industry should have no problem meeting the guidelines, said Bruce Scholnick, president of the National Wooden Pallet & Container Association, Alexandria, Va.

“I think the produce industry is pretty assured that when they are purchasing containers or pallets for export that they are getting compliant materials,” Scholnick said. “I don’t hear any problems with regards to the produce industry exporting.”

The law, set for Feb. 1 enforcement, requires heat treatment or methyl bromide fumigation on imports and exports of wood pallets.

Enacted by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the law aims to prevent the spread of the Asian longhorn beetle and the pinewood nematode.

As of Feb. 1, countries exporting noncompliant pallets to the U.S. must pay quarantine expenses while switching to alternative pallets. On July 4, full enforcement will take effect, with all noncompliant pallets being returned or destroyed immediately.

Since the Sept. 16 announcement of February’s rule, Chep USA, a division of Orlando, Fla.-based Chep International, has added about 500 heat-treatment facilities. Now, Chep USA has about 1,000 heat-treatment facilities, said Per Ohstrom, marketing director.

Despite the added cost — $1 to heat-treat a one-way wood pallet, which costs about $5.40 — Ohstrom prefers wood pallets to plastic pallets, which cost about $15 to $40. Ohstrom said he markets a small number of plastic pallets.

“They get banged up and destroyed,” Ohstrom said about plastic pallets. “A wood pallet you can use again and again, and you can repair a wood pallet. Once plastic pallets break, the only thing you can do is grind it up.”

Still, John Golden, director of marketing at Fairfield, Calif.-based Macro Plastics Inc., said he prefers plastic.

“When you look at the whole picture, as far as sanitary gains, product gains and traceability gains, wood is a great medium if it always stays dry or it always stays wet,” Golden said. “The problem that occurs is when it goes wet, dry, wet, dry.”

That scenario, Golden said, leads to decomposing wood, which can cause infestation and nails to pull out.

Since October, Chris Ciruli has heat-treated his wood pallets and has considered using plastic pallets. The chief operating officer of Nogales, Ariz.-based Ciruli Bros. LLC said he plans to use more plastic because it is cost-stable.

However, he said, the industry tends to prefer wood pallets.

“When you do go into the racking systems, they prefer the old wood,” Ciruli said. “Right now, the industry is just set for wood. There’s so much wood in circulation.”