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What is ISPM 15? A comprehensive guide for packaging requirements

Richard Coombes: Last Updated 27th March 2024
Posted In: Guides and Advice | Reduce Costs | Transit Protection xx 31623

Introduction to ISPM 15

Requirements for shipping timber packaging internationally

If your business uses wooden crates, pallets or timber packaging, it is essential that you are aware of ISPM 15.

ISPM 15 – meaning International Standards For Phytosanitary Measures – is a regulation for heat treatment of timber pallets and packaging. Any wood material thicker than 6mm used for shipping products between countries is subject to the regulation. Its primary purpose is to prevent the spread of pests (insects), diseases and contaminants in the wood.

This guide provides you with all of the information your business needs regarding ISPM 15, ensuring your export packaging complies with the regulations.



Background of ISPM 15

The International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC) originally developed the “International Standards For Phytosanitary Measures” No. 15 (ISPM 15).

Phytosanitary measures are steps taken to help protect humans, animals, and plants from contaminants, pests (typically insects), or diseases. There are 24 International Standards for Phytosanitary Measures in total.

ISPM 15 specifically covers wood packaging used for international trade. As such, items including pallets, wooden shipping crates, timber cases and dunnage all fall within the scope of the standard. However, timber packaging manufactured using processed woods such as plywood, OSB, and particle boards is exempt.

Due to the regulations, the supplier from whom you purchase any timber crates, pallets, or wooden export packaging must treat them appropriately. It is also essential that your packaging carries the correct marking.

What is ISPM15?
ISPM 15 specifically covers wood packaging, including pallets, used for international trade.

Purpose of ISPM 15

Protecting global forests and ecosystems

The purpose of ISPM 15 is to preserve environments from pests and diseases found in the wood of trees.

The regulations recommend heat treatment of timber packaging made of coniferous and non-coniferous raw wood to prevent these pests and diseases from spreading and negatively affecting another country’s plants or ecosystem. Kiln drying and fumigation (with Methyl bromide) are also acceptable.

However, there are also other advantages to using wooden pallets that have been heat-treated, including enhanced sterilisation, durability and weather resistance.

A person placing boxes on a heat treated pallet
ISPM 15 pallets provide improved sterilisation, durability and weather resistance.

Countries that require ISPM 15

ISPM 15 is not mandatory. However, its widespread adoption by more than 70 countries and economic unions engaged in global trade, such as the UK, US, China, European Union, India, and Japan, renders it crucial for numerous manufacturers involved in exporting goods. This list of countries evolves each year.

Key components of ISPM 15

ISPM 15 treatment methods and exemptions

All wood materials used to transport goods between countries that are thicker than 6mm must meet the criteria within ISPM 15 regulations.

The regulations encompass pallets, dunnages, crates, cable drums, spools, packing cases, and boxes, regardless of whether using softwood (coniferous) or hardwood (non-coniferous).

The standard does not extend to items manufactured from hardboard, plywood, or other wood panel products (i.e. processed wood materials), as well as those made from paper or plastic.

ISPM 15 timber packaging
Any timber component of packaging used for export must be ISPM15 compliant.

Other exemptions

Here is a list of all wood packaging exemptions:

  • Presswood pallet.
  • Venner peeler core.
  • Wood packaging less than 6mm in thickness.
  • Euroblock palletblocks.
  • Wooden barrels that have been heat treated to contain alcohol.
  • Sawdust, wood wool and shavings.
  • Gift boxes with processed wood.


Wood used in the production of packaging materials must undergo debarking before undergoing fumigation or heat treatment.

This precautionary measure prevents potential re-infestation by pests during the period when the wood is awaiting fabrication into packaging (or even post-manufacture).

However, the debarking process may not always yield wood completely free of bark. According to the standard, the wood should have no more than 3 cm of bark width (irrespective of length) after bark removal.

Alternatively, if the remaining bark exceeds 3 cm in width, each piece should not exceed 50 square centimetres.

Authorised treatment methods

ISPM 15 describes the standard processes to thoroughly eliminate pests, diseases, and contaminants in wood packaging materials through each method.

There are four methods of treating wood packaging, but only two of them are approved by ISPM 15 standards (HT and MB):

  • Heat treatment (HT): Heating wood packaging until the minimum wood core temperature reaches 56 degrees Celsius. The temperature should remain at this level for 30 minutes at a minimum.
  • Methyl bromide (MB) fumigation: Wood fumigation involves placing wood in a sealed area and introducing fumigants, such as gases or chemicals, to eliminate pests. It is, however, banned in EU countries.
  • Dielectic heat (DH): This process uses electromagnetic waves to create heat of 60 degrees Celsius at 30 minutes (minimum) for effective treatment of the packaging.
  • Sulphuryl fluoride (SF) fumigation: Similar to methyl bromide but using sulphuryl fluoride instead, this process is also banned in EU countries.

These types of treatments successfully eliminate the following pests:

  • Insects
  • Anobiidae
  • Bostrichidae
  • Buprestidae
  • Cerambycidae
  • Curculionidae
  • Isoptera
  • Lyctidae (with some exceptions for HT)
  • Oedemeridae
  • Scolytidae
  • Siricidae
  • Bursaphelenchus xylophilus

However, heat treatment is the preferred method for ISPM 15, being safer and more effective than chemical fumigation. The heat eliminates insects and larvae, diminishes moisture content, and ensures pallets are safe to handle.

Chemical fumigation, in contrast, has led to recalls in the food and pharmaceutical sectors due to trace chemical residues and often leaves an undesirable odour. Chemically treated pallets must not be burnt or used for other purposes (including DIY projects) due to their harmful nature.

Certain pests can resist the heat treatment and are managed by the National Plant Protection Organisation on a case-by-case basis – at which heat treatment may require a higher temperature.

Fumigated pallets
Besides heat, there are other treatments that ISPM 15 specifies as acceptable.

ISPM 15 marking

Regulatory requirements for correct labelling of wooden packaging

Wooden packaging must carry a stamp (often referred to as the wheat stamp) indicating their completion of the ISPM 15 process.

Wooden packaging subjected to this procedure receives a globally recognised authentication mark featuring several elements:

A: IPPC certification symbol.

B: XX: represents the two-letter ISO country code (e.g. GB for the United Kingdom).

C: 00: represents the unique certification number issued to NPPOs  – the regulating agencies overseeing individual wood packaging manufacturers. This code allows for traceability back to the NPPO/auditing agency.

D: 1111: the unique certification number issued to the treatment provider and/or manufacturer.

E: YY: represents the treatment applied to the wood packaging material:

HT is the code for heat treatment to a minimum of 56 °C (133 °F)

MB is the code for methyl bromide fumigation.

ISPM 15 wheat mark
It is important for ISPM 15 packaging to carry the appropriate labelling (the "wheat" mark).

The importance of ISPM 15 marking

While some pallet and timber packaging manufacturers may include extra details on heat-treated products, the presence of the ISPM 15 authentication mark is the definitive assurance of compliance and safety.

The traceability of the mark helps identify suppliers that have undergone stringent checks to ensure the packaging is correctly heat treated.

When acquiring wooden pallets or packaging for international shipping, it is crucial to verify their proper treatment. Ensure they bear the appropriate mark and consider requesting a certificate from your supplier to guarantee compliance.

Adoption and implementation

Infrastructure and approval of facilities

To attain the status of an Authorised Certification Official, the National Plant Protection Organization (NPPO) must grant accreditation for certificate issuance.

The evaluation process examines factors such as the sources and varieties of wood utilised, the methods of treatment employed, compliance with standards, the presence of facilities to segregate treated and non-treated woods, and the knowledge of the designated individual regarding marking requirements, treatment protocols, wood types, and early detection of live pests.

Regular renewal of the certificate every six months necessitates a continuous commitment to upholding standards.

Reusing wood packaging material

Following the treatment and application of the quality mark to the wood packaging material, no additional treatment is necessary unless it undergoes repairs or faces re-infestation (which may require the pack/pallet to be destroyed).

Impact of international trade

Import controls

Should a shipped product reach its designated country without an official certification stamp, the country retains the authority to subject the packaging and its contents to various measures. These measures can include heat treatment, debarking, burial, chipping, or even complete destruction (including its contents). The sender incurs the costs associated with any of these processes.

As such, it is advisable to avoid taking the chance of non-compliance in such cases.

A large stack of ISPM15 compliant wooden pallets
The consequences of not using ISPM 15 packaging for export can include the complete destruction - including contents - of the shipment.


The importance of ISPM 15 for wood packaging

The complexity of international shipping standards can often be confusing. As such, sourcing your wooden shipping crates and pallets from an established, knowledgeable supplier is crucial.

At GWP, we have considerable experience providing timber packaging to a vast range of businesses and industries.

Our experts can help guide you through the process of sourcing the most suitable packaging for your specific application. This benefit is in addition to a team of designers, a modern production facility, and the availability of an extensive range of packaging materials and options.

So, if you would like further information and advice on wooden packaging and how ISPM 15 may affect your business, please do not hesitate to get in touch.

Further reading

About the author

Richard Coombes

Richard Coombes

General Manager | GWP Protective

Having originally joined GWP Protective back in 2004, working on the factory floor, Richard now heads up the business as General Manager.
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