Pallet Markings: What Do They Mean?

Understanding Stamps, Brands and Paint Colors on Pallets

ISPM 15 stamp. Rick LeBlanc

What Types of Pallet Markings Are Common?

Have you ever wondered about why pallets are painted different colors, and what the various stamps and markings seen on pallets are trying to communicate? Pallet markings, including stamps and stencils, can be very informative. They may indicate:

  • the owner of a pallet such as PECO or CHEP, for example. 
  • an organization that creates or inspects for quality standards related to particular pallet pools, such as EPAL, the European Pallet Association.
  • compliance with ISPM-15 requirements, which pertain to the treatment of pallets with regard to eliminating pests that could potentially hitchhike aboard pallets. 
  • the size or model of the pallet.
  • other lumber markings that may have been applied when the lumber was manufactured.

Typically, however, such markings will not provide an indication of whether or not a pallet may have handled some kind of hazardous material that would pose risk or other safety concern to the handler. While soiled or dirty pallets may be obvious to the eye (or to your sense of smell), don't rely on markings to tell you whether or not a pallet is contaminated. Due diligence is required when selecting a pallet for a project.

Getting back to pallet markings, let’s take a closer look.

Red Pallets and Blue Pallets: Declaring Pallet Ownership

In the latter decades of the 20th Century, it was still common for buyers of pallets to stencil or brand their name on the side of a pallet. Product manufacturers or retailers would often purchase pallets with their name branded on the side of the stringer. This served to help promote the​ return of empty pallets back to the pallet owner. The negative of such an approach was that it also exposed the pallet owner to potential liability, if for example, the pallet failed in use and caused a loss or injury, or if a branded pallet ended up on the street and resulted in a traffic accident.

The most recognizable pallet brand from around the world is that of CHEP, which owns millions of distinctively blue painted pallets with white CHEP marking. There are other notable pallet pools that also have distinctive markings and colors. Pallet paint color is also used to help in their identification. In North America, another popular pool pallet marking is the red pallet with white lettering sported by the PECO Pallet. Both of these pallet brands are seen most commonly in FMCG (fast moving consumer goods) supply chains.

It should be noted that both companies take strict enforcement policies with respect to protecting their pallet assets, and such pallets should not be used in unauthorized situations or dismantled for craft projects. There is a vast array of different proprietary pallet markings that a pallet collector or recycler may encounter, whether pallets are owned by one of the pallet rental pools, as discussed above, or by a particular company. It is important to recognize the markings of such pallets in your locale that may be subject to assertions of ownership, so as to avoid potential legal complications.

Marks Belonging to Organizations Providing Oversight of Pallet Quality for Pallet Pools

EPAL, the European Pallet Association, uses an EPAL inside an oval mark to identify EPAL pallets. Unlike pallet rental pools, only oversees the quality of EPAL pallets rather than asserting ownership. Other pools that oversee pallet quality include the 9BLOC pallet program in the U.S. and until 2015, the Canadian Pallet Council.

ISPM-15 Markings

ISPM-15 markings signal to government border inspection services that a solid wood pallet or solid wood packaging has been treated with heat or methyl bromide treatment in accordance with the standard. Looking at the marking, the left-hand portion is the symbol for IPPC or International Plant Protection Convention, which oversees ISPM-15. In the right-hand square, the country code (XX) is followed by wood packaging or treatment facility identification (0000) as well as a method of treatment, HT (heat treatment) or MB (methyl bromide).

Lumber Grading Marks

While not critical to understanding the pallet, residual lumber grade marks may be present on various components of the pallet. Lumber grades provide a basis for ascertaining the quality of lumber purchased from various mills, thus allowing pallet manufacturers to purchase affordable lumber suitable for pallet production. Pallet manufacturers will purchase lumber of a particular grade to meet the performance needs of their products, often lower grade industrial lumber. Lumber stamps typically include such information as the name of the grading agency, sawmill identification, species identification, lumber grade, as well as whether the wood is unseasoned or dried.