The best thing about void fill is there are so many options. The worst thing about void fill is … there are so many options. Selecting the right void fill material is difficult — keeping a few things in mind will help you make the right decision.
Void fill can be broken down into several categories.
Loose fill materials, commonly called “packing peanuts”, are made from a variety of eco friendly and not so eco friendly materials, including polystyrene, corn starch, and paper. The weight of loose fill varies depending on the material, but generally speaking, loose fill is inexpensive per application, but messy and not very effective for cushioning.
Industrial papers include kraft paper, newsprint, and tissue paper. Most papers used for void fill have high PCW content, are fairly inexpensive per application, and are easier and cleaner to use than loose fill. Industrial papers are available in sheeted or roll form, making them easy to integrate into most packing operations. Multi-layered papers have become more popular in recent years, mainly due to shippers looking for alternatives to plastic-based packing materials. Multi-layer papers, which are typically made on-site, provide excellent cushioning, but are significantly heavier than plastic alternatives.
Flexible foams and bubble material, though much more expensive per application than other options, have outstanding cushioning and surface protection characteristics, making them a good choice when those attributes are needed. Foam and bubble are available with and without non-recycled content. Performance may be compromised with materials having a high recycled content, so it’s a good idea to carefully test before making a decision. These materials are not recommended for general purpose void fill.
Expandable foam, sometimes called foam-in-place, mix two liquid chemicals inside a polyethylene bag on site to produce a sack of foam that expands and hardens, either in a mold or around the product being packaged. Disposal and recyclability of these materials vary according to the manufacturer. Expandable foam, like flexible foam and bubble, are designed for specialized use. Expandable foams come in a variety of densities and are used when cushioning and/or blocking and bracing are imperative. They are expensive per application, and are used widely in the electronics and furniture industries, among others.
Inflatable air pillows are rolls of polyethylene bags delivered to the user on a roll, and then inflated with a simple machine, either as they are being used or in batches. Air pillows are inexpensive per application and provide much more cushioning than loose fill. Our new Globe Guard Inflatable Air Pillows are made from 100% recycled material, which we believe is unique.
In an upcoming post, I’ll talk about a little more about how to match up your specific needs with the right material.