What does Brexit mean for Shipping Goods into the European Union from 1st January 2021?

There have been a lot of arguments and counter-arguments about what will change when the Brexit transition period comes to an end. The UK will leave the European Union on the 31st January 2020 and areas that should have been negotiated and agreed upon remain in flux. Regardless of COVID-19, which many will blame for setbacks in negotiations, there are some big changes ahead for shipping to the EU from 1st January 2021.

Before Brexit, there were technically open borders between the UK and EU countries. Goods and people moved freely with minimal checks and documentation; moving goods within the EU was much the same as moving them within the United Kingdom. This is set to change, as exporting goods to the EU will require customs declarations, similarly to how exporting or sending goods to other parts of the world (such as the US) works. It will increase paperwork and the complexity of exporting goods. It is also rumoured that tailbacks and delays will affect ports in the UK and France.

Regarding goods being sent in crates the UK Government website states:

“From 1 January 2021, all WPM moving between the UK and the EU must meet ISPM15 international standards by undergoing heat treatment and marking. All WPM may be subject to official checks either upon or after entry to the EU.

Checks on WPM will continue to be carried out in the UK on a risk-targeted basis only. The plant health risk from WPM imported from the EU is not expected to change from 1 January 2021.”

What does this mean?

Essentially, all wooden packaging materials such as pallets, crates, boxes, cable drums, spools and dunnage must comply with the ISPM15 guidelines. ISPM15 stands for the “International Standard for Phytosanitary Measures No 15. This certification, declaring wooden pallets have been heat-treated and are free from pests and fungus, is key to preventing the spread of foreign species from one geographical location to another.

Until now, any pallets used in the shipping of goods to countries within the EU were exempt from this requirement – any pallet could be used or reused when exporting goods. From the 31st January 2021, all wooden pallets, crates and boxes used to export outside of the UK (except for Ireland) will need to be certified and valid to comply with ISPM15.

So why can’t businesses just change to purchasing certified pallets? The issue here is that 43% of all UK exports, that’s £300 billion, go to EU countries. This will result in at least double the demand for certified wooden pallets almost overnight. Something that Timcon, the industry body for wooden pallets, says will not be an issue as they have been “planning for this for some time”. 

The press reports a different angle though, with headlines on Yahoo and MSN conveying a more worrying message: ‘How a no-deal Brexit will create shortages and could cripple UK food and drink firms.’ There is real unease amongst those in the industry about the supply of certified wooden pallets. One alternative solution is plastic pallets, they are already exempt from ISMP15 and completely suitable to use instead.

Dale Patterson Managing Director at Exporta said: “This year has been tough on trading for many businesses due to the lockdown and restrictions imposed in response to COVID-19. The industry does not need any further disruptions to our export trade. The threat of increased demand for ISM15 certified wooden pallets is very real and I would recommend anyone who relies on exporting to the EU considers plastic pallets as an alternative. They can save time and money in the long term while ensuring compliance at all times.”

Five reasons to consider switching from wooden pallets to recycled plastic

1. They are exempt from ISPM15

Plastic pallets, boxes, crates, and containers are naturally hygienic, and parasites, bugs, and fungi cannot live in or attach to them. This means that they do not require any specific certification for exporting to the EU, or any other country for that matter.

2. They are more cost-effective

It is often thought that plastic pallets are more expensive than those made from wood. Several years ago when wood was in good supply and demand the price was cheaper than it is today. Plastic pallets were very new and not as commonly used, so they had not developed any economies of scale. Fast forward to the present day and plastic pallets are more common within the supply chain. Technology and production techniques have evolved to steadily reduce costs. 

There is also now a shortage of sustainable wood sources. And with increased demand outstripping supply, prices have been increasing steadily for several years now. The price gap between wood and plastic is narrower than ever before making plastic a viable alternative. 

3. Plastic Pallets last longer than wooden pallets

Wooden pallets are generally only strong enough for single-use, or a few trips, and they damage easily. Whereas plastic pallets are engineered for specific uses, and scientifically designed to be more accurate, consistent, with guaranteed suitability for a range of different jobs. This means a plastic pallet can last for up to 10 years, at least 25 times the lifespan of a wooden pallet. This makes them a more robust, sustainable and cost-effective solution in the medium to long term than using wooden pallets.

4. Plastic Pallets are more sustainable and environmentally friendly

Plastic pallets can be made from recycled plastic, and 98% of all pallets sold by Exporta are made from recycled material which helps to reduce plastic waste. Crucially, they do not end up in landfill which is where the majority of old wooden pallets go at the end of their lifespan.

5. Plastic Pallets are scientifically designed and therefore more consistent 

Plastic pallets go through a very robust technical design and testing process before they come onto the market. The machines that make them are calibrated so that when a plastic pallet is designed to carry a one-ton on a rack it is designed, tested, and approved to do so. Wooden pallets are made from a natural material with natural flaws, grains and knots, which means it is not always 100% possible to guarantee their exact tolerance and capacity.

By Alison