Recycled wood pallets are a huge trend. The internet abounds (especially social media) with charming crafts and DIY projects. Now, I know you are thinking “What does this have to do with pets?” Simple, many of the projects for reusing pallets deal directly or indirectly with critters. I have seen directions for pet enclosures, dog beds, and human furniture and even raised bed gardens. Before you race down to your local home improvement store and start begging for pallets, do some research into their safety. This will get you started. Also check the urls at the end and do your own research. What I learned about wood pallets, chemicals and recycling was interesting – and eye opening!
There are stamps on pallets that will tell you what they are made with and what chemicals were used to treat the wood. Crafters are advised to look for food grade pallets as they are safer. However the guidelines are for new pallets. Many companies rebuild and reuse pallets before they are given or sold to people for repurposing. Therefore food grade pallets may be reused before you get them. Sanding, washing and disinfecting pallets before use does not address chemicals that soaked into the wood, deeper mold or fungus, or insects that bored into the wood. Pallets from lower grade manufactured wood can contain preservatives such as formaldehyde. Pallets may be treated with fungicides such as 2,4,6-tribomophenol which has been blamed for contaminating products on the pallets. Insecticides and herbicides may also be used on pallets to prevent insect and the growth of things that are not desired on pallets. It is possible for this to be done after manufacturing by companies buying used pallets for reuse. Remember, those stamps you are told to look for are only good at the time of manufacturing and do not reflect what is done after by the person who buys the pallets for their use.
I used to work jobs that had me regularly patrolling warehouses. I can honestly state I have seen leaks and contamination on and near wood pallets. I remember having to call in maintenance to check a chemical leak from something stored on wood pallets. Luckily it was an unmarked barrel of industrial soap. It is still nothing you would want to ingest but the leak could have been a lot worse. It could have been one of the caustic chemicals used in the manufacturing plant. Pallets were often reused at some of these businesses.
Now you are told to look for kiln dried or heat treated pallets. Well, pallets often spend at least some time outside. Pallets get wet which can lead to mold and fungal growth. It does not take much moisture to cause mold growth. Pallets are exposed to animal and insect waste. In at least one test, E. coli on contamination was found on 10% of the pallets tested and Listeria contamination on 3%. Even if stored only inside there is still risk of chemical spills, rodents and insects and even dampness as not all warehouses are water tight. Combine with how often pallets are reused before handed off to you for a cool project and it should give pause for consideration.
So what about outdoor use such as raised bed gardens and fencing? Since there is a risk of contamination, it is not recommended to use wood pallets as planters for any plants you or a pet may eat. Chemicals can leach into the soil. If you must use them, get the newest ones you can, scrub and disinfect well. Then consider sealing with a food safe sealant. Alternatively look for plastic pallets which are easier to sanitize and clean. They may be a safer choice. Use for fencing, again, if there is any chance at all of your pet chewing the wood, I would not use pallets. I have known horses in the past who were avid wood chewers.
What is my opinion? I would not use wood pallets for projects involving planting food, serving food or upon where food will be placed. I would not use them for any project that is for indoor human or pet furniture/use. I would not use them for projects outdoors where a pet may chew it. If your pet is not a chewer then you have a few more options. If you decide to repurpose pallets, choose carefully. Educate yourself about the different markings. Get the newest food grade pallets you can from grocery stores. Avoid pallets from other places like your local home improvement store or the stack behind your car repair shop.
I am all for reusing and repurposing things; however, we also must do so with care. You would not want to accidentally cause harm to your furry, feathered or scaly friends.
For more information on pallets and safety:
A shortened version of this is pending in Northern Virginia Today as of 6-30-15