Are pallets safe to use in the garden?

Are pallets safe to use in the garden?

While pallets are great, how do we know that pallets we want to recycle are safe to use in the garden? There are so many things that can be made from pallets. Common examples include

  • compost bins
  • fences
  • raised beds
  • planters
  • furniture.

How to make a compost bay fence

At Byther Farm, we recycle pallets to create compost bays. These are areas that are the size of a pallet in which to make compost heaps. The pallets hold the materials in place while nature does its thing to break down the materials into compost. We then use the compost as a mulch and soil improver in the garden.

In our garden in Monmouthshire, I made an entire fence from recycled pallets. Using baler twine, because that is what we had, I strapped together several pallets to make this multipurpose fence. The pallet structure was then used for compost heaps, storing water collection barrels, storing tools, as a wind break and for storing tools. I even grew squashes in the compost in the bays!

pallets safe to use in the garden made into a fence

Can I use any pallet in the garden?

Not all pallets are the same, therefore some sensible precautions should be taken when using them. You may notice markings or different colors sprayed on pallets.

Pallets are usually treated to destroy any parasites or insects in the wood. The treatments vary and some are not safe for use in the garden or even for burning on a fire.

Pallets that are being sent internationally are required to have a treatment stamp on them, which helps us to identify how they were treated. This makes it simple to decide which pallets are safe to use in the garden.

There are treatment marks (two letters) specific to some countries and the most commonly used in the UK include

DB – Debarked. Most pallets are made from wood that has had the bark removed, this is done to ensure that any treatments will be applied efficiently to the wood.

HT – Heat Treated. Pallet wood has been heated to at least 56°C (60°C for hardwoods) for a minimum of 30 minutes.

KD – Pests are killed off by heating pallets in a kiln. Kiln drying can also avoid other issues like warping and fungal growth. When a mill dries the wood to a higher temperature, it may also be marked at heat treated e.g. KD-HT.

DH – Dielectric Heated. A method of heating a material using a high-frequency electromagnetic field.

MB – Methyl Bromide. These pallets have been treated with a highly toxic pesticide. Do NOT use pallets marked with MB in the garden or burn them on a fire.

Further reading and viewing

For a great example of how to make a raised bed from a pallet, see this video from Huw Richards.

Liz Zorab
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