Don’t tuck newspapers into the box! We choose parcel fillers for pros

Old newspapers are passé – you end up with dirty hands, with ineffectively protected goods and diminished prestige as a sender. According to research, customers not only notice what is used as a parcel filler, but enjoy opening a parcel stuffed with specialist cushioning and padding material. Aesthetic, special void space fillers may add the “wow” factor to the product.

What both the seller and forwarder are aiming at is delivering undamaged goods to the customer. Therefore, the basic criterion for the selection of filling material should be its physical properties, which will guarantee the best protection of the packed items.

What goes where, or types of fillers

What kind of filler you will use depends on what you want to pack and how much void space you have to fill. Let’s look at the fillers available on the market and their possible applications:

  • crumpled paper – machine-made, widely applied to pack virtually all kinds of goods, especially useful when packing light-weight products (toys, electronics, small home appliances, cosmetics) and/or having protruding or sharp edges (e.g. tools and machinery);
  • newspapers/waste paper/paper cuttings – similarly applied as machined crumpled paper, however, demonstrating much worse functionality and terrible presentation:
  • foamed paper loose fill – a corn curl shaped briquette of first shredded and then foamed paper, good shock absorbency and relatively light, great for “filling up” irregular-shaped void spaces, and at the same time a great moisture-absorber;
  • polystyrene boxes  – polystyrene boxes and moulds in a shape adapted either to the whole item or to its parts (for example in the case of protruding parts) provide one of the most effective forms of protection and the simplest void fill; they are widely used – from small electronics to large and heavy industrial machinery; polystyrene also offers thermal insulation properties, indispensable for the safe transit of highly perishable items, such as medicines or food;
  • polyurethane foam moulds – serve the same uses, thanks to similar physical properties, as polystyrene boxes, however, more flexible and adaptive polyurethane foam moulds outperform their functionality: instead of ordering ready boxes or moulds, a perfectly matched form may be achieved by filling in the voids between the bags (protected with foil) in the package with the fast expanding foam;
  • loose fill peanuts – flopak and skropak – at the first glance they are very similar to each other (both resembling corn curls) have similar physical properties and analogous use (superior for filling relatively small voids around irregularly shaped items); however, they differ from each other in a fundamental way: flopak is made of polyurethane foam, whereas skropak is biodegradable;
  • chips – very light polystyrene (styrofoam) filler, having good insulating properties, in the form of flakes, used mainly for the shipment of the light-weight and small items;
  • wood wool (excelsior) – shredded timber (in natural colour or coloured) is a relatively effective filler, and at the same time very visually appealing; In the past, it has been used for packaging and protection of ceramics and glass, while now it offers an organic look which enhances the ecological qualities of food and wine;
  • bubble wrap – one of the most versatile, and simultaneously the most effective fillers; In contrast to crumpled paper, it offers a very light and even layer of filler, which is suitable for protecting the item against not only damages but getting damp as well; available in rolls of small bubble wrap and in sheets of large bubble wrap;
  • air cushions – they have similar properties to bubble wrap, which they replace when filling larger void spaces; they are not recommended for the packaging of the heavy or sharp edged items (they are susceptible to puncturing);
  • sponge and foam fillers – they offer good and lasting protection to any item (they are not subject to breaking or deformation due to shock or compression), and they come in a wide range of shapes and colours.

As you can see, there are many good answers to the question of what a good package filler should be. The basic aim is to effectively secure the items. However, the protection is not the only criterion considered while choosing the optimal filler for a package.

E +++: cost Efficiency, aEsthetics (look Enhancement) , Ecology

Three E define the perfect filler:

  • cost efficiency – it is not only the cost/price of the filler that matter, but also its weight (the lower weight, the lower transport costs). Sometimes you have to take into account the cost of buying or leasing machinery (automatic paper crumpler, air cushion machine) and the cost of raw materials  (expenses for the purchase and storage) for filler production.  In both cases (buying filler or its production) you have to take into consideration the versatility of its use. The wider, the better as you do not have to buy or produce a lot of different fillers.
  • aesthetics or look enhancement – the presentation of the item and the way it is perceived by a customer is a key element in a buying process, and the filler used in packaging may influence the customers unboxing experience – falling below or exceeding expectations – low-quality filler may result in perceiving low quality of the item, as well as lack of due respect to the customer (can you imagine a bottle of branded wine packed in an old newspaper …);
  • ecology – biodegradable fillers which decompose fully in a short period of time to produce less toxic substances harmful to the environment are becoming more and more popular.

To sum up: an ideal filler should be light-weight, cheap to buy or produce, biodegradable and appealing. Does it exist?

Butter vs. margarine, that is paper versus the rest of the world

According to paper and wood based fillers producers, such fillers are the most E – cost effective (cheap and versatile), look enhancing and ecological (made from waste paper, undyed and fully biodegradable).

The main rival to paper as the filler in the shipment market is … air, that is, all kinds of inflatable bubble wraps, air cushions and mats. Their incontestable advantages are the very low specific gravity and the small storage space of the film used in the production of the filler, as well as of that one that becomes waste. The films currently used decompose in an environmentally friendly way within a period of 1-5 years.

Fillers made of polyurethane and polypropylene although showing excellent protective and thermal insulation properties, do not seem to be ecological. However, their producers are proving that widely used foams and polystyrene are not harmful to the natural environment – they do not contaminate, but only damage the environment mechanically and to a relatively small extent. A simulation was carried out, which showed that potentially replacing foam and polyurethane fillers with paper would mean more electricity and huge water consumption by paper factories, as well as resulting in more serious pollution.

All this is like in every single pros and cons debate and in the famous battle between butter and margarine … In this situation, how much a given E (cost Efficiency, Ecology, aEstethics) is important should be combined with your individual preferences and business strategy. For example, putting an emphasis on ecological packaging can result in excessive costs, but can also be a great marketing gimmick, increasing sales. It all depends on how well we know our customers and how accurately we can predict or influence their responses.

Good luck!