When travelling through a parcel delivery network, your parcel will be handled several times as it is loaded on and off vehicles, conveyor belts and aircrafts-it's during these shipping processes that that your parcel will experience small impacts, compressions, bumps, jolts or vibrations in transit.
As the shipper, it's up to you, to ensure that you protect your goods from physical damage by packaging them correctly. Therefore it's important to understand a little bit more about the variety of packaging materials available, and what they each do best.
In general, packaging materials are designed to offer protection to your goods by:
By knowing more about which packaging materials are best suited for each type of protection, you will be able to easily choose the right type of packaging materials for your shipment.
Bubble wrap is by far the most common and most versatile type of packaging material available, and it comes in all different bubble heights and sizes. It is ideal for the protection of most lightweight to medium weight items, including fragile items. Bubble wrap can be used both as internal packaging by wrapping it around your goods, and as cushioning material for cushioning your goods inside the box by filling the void space between your goods and the box walls. When using bubble wrap to protect your goods, you should wrap at least two inches (5.08 cm) of bubble wrap around your goods.
Kraft paper or multi-layered paper (but not newspaper or newsprint) is great to use as internal packaging for wrapping around goods, and it is ideal for light-to-medium weight, non-fragile items. Kraft paper and multi-layered paper can also be used as space fillers for cushioning your goods inside the box. When using craft paper as cushioning material you must ensure that the paper is tightly crumpled before placing inside the box. Kraft paper is not suitable for heavy items.
Loose fill such as â€˜expanded polystyrene peanuts' (also commonly referred to as â€˜foam chips') are one of the most used cushioning materials in shipping, and it is mainly used for lightweight items. When using loose fill as cushioning material you should use at least two inches (5.08 cm) around all sides to cushion your goods properly. Whilst expanded polystyrene peanuts are excellent cushioning material for most items, they are not suitable for electronics because they produce static electricity when moving inside the box which could damage an electronic product. If you are sending electronic items, then you should use â€˜anti-static peanuts' as cushioning material instead.
Anti-static bags are generally used as internal packaging material for shipping electronic items as they protect against static electricity that may cause damage to electronic goods. You should place your electronic item inside an anti-static bag before wrapping the bag with other internal wrapping materials such as bubble wrap, and then also cushion it in the box with â€˜anti-static peanuts' for maximum protection. Anti-static bags are available in a wide variety of sizes.
Air filled bags/pockets are often used as internal cushioning for light weight items. They are not suitable for heavy items, or items with sharp edges or corners. Be aware that extreme temperatures may affect this type of packaging, so you should avoid using these for shipping to countries that are either extremely hot or cold.
Polyethylene Foam Sheeting
Polyethylene foam sheets are lightweight, soft and resilient. This material is normally used as internal packaging, as it provides excellent surface protection for most goods, and is ideal for protecting lightweight items.
Expanded Polystyrene Blocks/Surrounds/Inserts
Expanded polystyrene blocks, surrounds and inserts are commonly used by manufacturers for shipping heavy goods because it offers excellent protection for most heavy or large items. They are also ideal for electronic items. Use in conjunction with anti-static bags for maximum protection for electronic items. They come in a variety of densities and shapes, but can be more expensive than other materials. Expanded polystyrene material can provide valuable protection for heavy items, metal items or items with sharp edges and corners.
Moulded pulp is an internal packaging material used for bracing and cushioning your goods inside the box. It is usually made from recycled paperboard and/or newspapers. Moulded pulp can be less expensive than expanded polystyrene blocks and surrounds and is also more environmentally friendly.
Foam-in-place is expanding polyurethane foam, which is used as internal packaging and cushioning for high value and delicate goods. The foam is usually injected into the box or bag, and the material expands inside to fit any item, providing a secure, custom cradle for your goods. Foam-in-place protects edges and supports corners, and is very useful where maximum cushioning is required. Make sure the foam-in-place is evenly distributed around your goods, as otherwise the foam-in-place will not protect. Foam-in-place packaging is ultra-light weight and will help to keep the cost of shipping to a minimum.
The most common type of external packaging is a corrugated cardboard box. Corrugated boxed can be single walled, double walled or even triple walled, offering varying levels of protection. Although it's highly recommended that you use a new box, you can re-use a cardboard box as long as the walls are rigid and there are no rips, punctures or tears, and the corners and flaps are intact and without damage. If you are re-using a box, it's absolute imperative that you remove any existing stickers and labels including old address labels, shipping labels and barcodes, before re-labelling your parcel for shipping. Using shoeboxes or paperboard boxes like A4 boxes as external packaging is not recommended.
Packaging tape is often referred to as parcel tape, and box-sealing tape. It is commonly used as an external packaging product for closing and sealing cardboard boxes. The adhesive used in packaging tape is pressure-sensitive, and you should always ensure that you use packaging tape to close and seal all openings and corners of your parcel (using at least two layers of tape). In addition you should always wrap the packaging tape around your parcel both length and width ways to provide extra strength.
Some goods such as hazardous materials, biological samples, chilled/frozen goods, and extremely heavy-weight products will require specialist packaging materials and containers. Wooden crates for example are commonly used for transporting extremely heavy items, whilst special shipping drums are used for hazardous materials, and temperature controlled containers are used for chilled and frozen products, as well as some biological samples.
When choosing your packaging material it is also important to consider the journey of your parcel; will it travel by road, air or sea?-Road shipments are usually subject to more bumps in transit than air shipments, for example, and you should use sturdier packaging and cushioning materials accordingly. With all this in mind, you should easily be now able to choose the right packaging material for your parcel - however if you need further advice you should contact your courier company.
An article published on behalf of Joanne Reader, a freelance writer