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Definitive Guide to Protective Packaging and Void Fill

guide to sustainable protective packaging solutions

After you’ve put care into every aspect of your product, you’ll want to ensure your packages arrive safely, and with a great unboxing experience. Thankfully, the world of  protective packaging is no longer limited to virgin bubble wrap and plastic air pillows.

Here we discuss sustainable protective packaging solutions, how to know when and what kind of protective packaging is right for your business, and more. If you'd rather talk than read, feel free to contact us anytime - we'd love to guide you through eco-friendly protective packaging and void fill.

Overview of Eco-Friendly Protective Packaging 

EcoEnclose Protective Packaging Options

Other Protective Packaging Options


 

Protective Packaging Defined

Protective Packaging. Void fill. Cushioning. We use these terms to refer to any cushioning, padding, or paper you add to your shipping package to protect your goods in transit and/or create a beautiful presentation for recipients.

Packing material is more than just shipping box stuffing. While void fill or box filler is largely a solution used in corrugated shipping boxes, it is also becoming more common in mailers, largely to add a little "wow" factor to the presentation.

There are many different types of void fill and packaging fillers out there, each unique in functionality, aesthetic, sustainability and cost. Here, we describe various packaging options - some that EcoEnclose carries, some we don't - and share what we think are the use cases, pros, and cons of each.

Contact us if you are trying to figure out the right protective packaging and presentation solutions for your business. We love designing the perfect package for the earth-conscious companies we get to work with! If you’re debating between a few of our products, order free samples today to test them out for yourself.

 

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When To Use Protective Packaging

Consider the following questions.

  • Are my products fragile?
  • Are my products very heavy?
  • Do my products have corners that could be subject to damage (i.e. books, postcards)?
  • Does my package have significant excess space in it that could cause my products to move around and get bent, damaged, or scuffed while the package is in transit?
  • Is it important to me and my brand that my customers receive a package that is unique and enjoyable to open?

If you answered “yes” to any of the above questions, void fill should likely be part of your packaging strategy. Corrugated shipping boxes are the most likely shipping strategy to require void fill of some sort because (regardless of what your product is) they are the most likely to contain excess air. But there are certainly cases where void fill isn’t needed.

For example, EcoEnclose customers that sell hats, shirts, handbags, or items that are already packaged in a retail style box (such as jewelry that may already be in a jewelry box) can order custom-sized boxes that fit their specific products well enough that there is minimal excess air or fear of product movement. This eliminates the need for packaging fillers.

Mailers do not typically require void fill, though many companies look to wrap their products for the sake of presentation. If a company is packaging something like essential oils or perfumes in a mailer, they may decide to wrap their products in protective cushioning or void fill before placing those goods in the shipping mailer.

 

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Protective Packaging Functionality

If you’ve decided to explore protective packaging for your packaging solutions, the next step is to be clear on which of the following purposes your protective packaging will serve so you can find the right solution.

Typically, your need for protective packaging will fall into one or more of the five following categories:

Individual Product Protection

moldable individual product protection for shipping

Fragile items (like glasses and pottery) should often be individually wrapped in void fill before placing in their shipping container. Wrap each product with enough cushioning for protection against the impact of a package being dropped and from colliding with other products in the box.

Void Fill (Blocking & Bracing)

void fill for blocking and bracing

Blocking and bracing refer to filling space in your package to hold products in place. If you sell a few different items and end up with a box that has space, you’re looking for packaging solutions to fill that space and prevent package contents from moving around in transit.

Cushioning

recycled cushioning options for shipping

Some items are not fragile or awkwardly shaped (and can be shipped in a perfectly sized box). However, these items often require edge crush protection to ensure that any impact to the package does not result in the crushing of corners and sides.

Cushioning is also ideal for when you are looking for a soft cushiony layer at the bottom and/or top of your shipping container. Cushioning prevents your products from minor damage in transit and adds a soft layer of protection.

Dust & Scuff Protection

void fill for dust protection

Some items or situations, such as a dress shirt shipped in a corrugated box, call for basic dust and scuff protection.

Presentation

sustainable void fill for presentation

Presentation adds a unique finishing touch to your product packaging to leave customers with a beautiful and lasting impression and showcase your brand. Some items that serve the previously described functional needs of void fill can also be used in such a way that they enhance your package presentation.

 

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EcoEnclose Protective Packaging & Void Fill Products

EcoEnclose offers six eco-friendly protective packaging and void fill products to meet your unique shipping needs. Read on to help you find the right ones for your business.

Packaging Paper

recycled packaging paper for void fill

Packaging filler paper is used to fill space and offer full product protection, corner and edge protection, and presentation.

If you’re aiming to fill space, crinkle or ball the packaging paper up and place it in your box after you’ve added your products. If you’re looking to protect products, wrap individual products in sustainable packaging paper, add these to your shipping package, and then - if needed - add balled-up packaging paper to fill in empty spaces. If you’re looking to enhance the presentation of your products, wrap your items up with packaging paper (like you would a decorative wrapping paper) and consider using hemp twine or a sticker as a finishing touch.

All EcoEnclose packaging paper filler is recyclable and compostable. EcoEnclose offers packaging paper that is made with 100% recycled material and is available on a roll (with dispensers also available for easy parsing and tearing so you use only the amount of material you need). We have multiple options that each vary in thickness, cushioning and price.

It may be tempting to just order the least expensive option of stuffing paper for shipping, especially because in pictures, they all look pretty similar. But we encourage you to think through what you need - how much protection, how much space to fill, etc. In many instances, you’ll find that with the thicker or the indented paper you can get adequate protection with significantly less paper, making these thicker packaging paper options more cost-effective and more sustainable in the long run. If, on the other hand, you’re interested in wrapping each product with paper, a thinner, more pliable option might work best.

Shop Kraft Paper: This the “everyday Jane” of paper packaging filler, and is the type you are probably used to seeing in online orders you receive at home. It's a brown kraft paper that is versatile and effective. We offer three different types of kraft packaging paper. While all of our kraft packaging paper is the same price, you’ll see that they vary in length, with the thinner, lighter-weight papers having more square footage per roll than the thicker, sturdier ones.

30# Kraft Paper:
 The thinnest option we carry at EcoEnclose. A roll has 1200’. Our 30# kraft paper is thin and very pliable. It is a good option if you are just trying to fill a little bit of excess air in a package to hold a product in place. Because of its pliability, it is also a great protective option if you are trying to wrap a somewhat oddly shaped item (and need to wrap the packaging paper around the shape).

40# Kraft Paper:
 This is the industry standard thickness and weight for void fill. A roll has 900’. If you crumple it in a ball, it doesn’t “give” as much as 30# so even though it is slightly more expensive than 30#, it is ultimately a more cost-effective and sustainable solution when you’re trying to fill a moderate amount of excess air in a package because you can use less to hold an item in place. It also works well for wrapping items and is a better solution than 30# if you want to ensure sturdiness and strength to your product wrapping.

60# Kraft Paper:
 The thickest and sturdiest of them all! A roll has 600’. Our favorite part about our 60# kraft packaging is that it is postal approved. That means it is sturdy enough to wrap AND ship your product allowing you to create your mailers from packaging paper. It is a great solution if you have a lot of air to fill (again, you’ll need less material to provide the same amount of protection and “give”) or want a very strong, durable wrap to your product. Because of its thickness and strength, the 60# packaging paper is not as pliable and is more difficult to crumple or work with. But, if strength and protection are what you need, the added effort could be well worth the improved functionality and reduced material use you experience.

Shop Indented Kraft Paper: This paper has ridges and bumps that add texture and a small amount of cushioning. If you just need a bit of protection and want to avoid the eco sadness of bubble wrap and the slight operational complexity of GreenWrap, this is a great option for wrapping products. It makes for a sleek and aesthetically pleasing final presentation. Indented paper offers more protection than flat packaging paper. This has 360’ per roll.

Shop Newsprint PaperA thin, 30# packaging paper option. This roll has 1700’. Like the 30# Kraft packaging paper, this option is extremely pliable and great for balling up to fill small pockets of air or wrapping your products (especially oddly shaped products) to provide some basic protection in transit. Unlike our eco-friendly kraft packaging paper, this option is off-white, giving it a more sleek and modern aesthetic and finish.

Shop Bogus Paper: A relatively thick packaging option, the 50# packaging paper is made from a combination of recycled kraft paper and newsprint. This is our only 50# packaging paper option, making it thicker and more protective than our 40# kraft paper, but thinner than our 60# kraft paper. It is a great option to fill in moderate air pockets. It is our only grey packaging paper option, a color that complements the branding and packaging scheme of many companies we work with.

Shop NextGen Wheat Paper: While this packaging paper looks very similar to the rest of the packaging paper rolls we offer, it is something special. This packaging paper is made with 20% wheat straw waste and 80% post-industrial, recycled paper. It represents EcoEnclose’s first step in the exciting world of Next Generation Fibers, natural fibers produced out of agricultural waste instead of trees. The packaging paper is in a 40# weight, making it the most common packaging paper thickness available today.

A final note on packing paper. If you don't ship that many items or don't find yourself needing void fill often, you might be able to use newspaper or other scrap material you have at home for void fill. Your customers will appreciate your creative upcycling!

We know that making sense of these various packaging paper options can be confusing. We encourage you to order free samples of any you are considering so you can see, feel, and crumble them yourself to find the right one for your needs.

 

Corrugated Bubble

recycled corrugated bubble void fill

Shop Corrugated Bubble or Order A Free Sample

Individual Product Protection | Void Fill | Cushioning

What It Is: A plastic-free alternative to bubble wrap. Made from shredded corrugated sheets (available in 1/4", 1/2", and 3/4" thicknesses), typically made out of the unusable portion of our corrugated sheets after they are cut into shipping boxes.

Eco-Features: 100% recycled, 95% post-consumer waste, upcycled from unusable portions of our corrugated sheets, curbside recyclable, and naturally biodegradable.

Great For: Companies that ship fragile items or items that may be subject to edge crush. Note that this product may bring a small amount of corrugated dust with it. Corrugated Bubble can be used in several ways:

  • Create a ball: Stretch the Corrugated Bubble and crumple it up to make “corrugated nests” to use as cushioning under your product.
  • Wrap your products: Wrap your fragile products in appropriately-sized Corrugated Bubble before placing them inside your box.
  • Line your box: Order Corrugated Bubble that fits your box perfectly and use it as a soft pad to line the bottom or top of your box.
  • Watch & LearnFor more detailed instructions, check out the Void Fill and Green Wrap section of our video tutorials page.

 

GreenWrap

fsc certified greenwrap for product protection

Shop GreenWrap or Order A Free Sample

Individual Product Protection

What It Is: A plastic-free alternative to bubble wrap. Die cut honeycomb paper that ships flat and is expanded through a dispenser. GreenWrap has two layers, a white tissue paper/liner layer and an outer layer that comes in a brown or white option. The dispenser (which is built into the box the GreenWrap ships in) is used to expand the outer layer of the GreenWrap, to create cushioning that can be molded around products for protection and presentation.

Eco-Features: sustainably sourced materials, curbside recyclable, and naturally biodegradable.

Great For: Glass bottles, pottery, art pieces, candles, glassware, books that may be subject to edge crush concerns, and more. GreenWrap works well for companies who sell a variety of fragile goods, all of which are differently sized, that need individual wrapping and protection.

  • Create a ball: Stretch the GreenWrap and crumple it up to make a nest to use as cushioning under your product.
  • Wrap your products: Wrap your fragile products in GreenWrap before placing them inside your box.
  • Line your box: Create a cushion and use it as a soft pad to line the bottom or top of your box.
  • Watch & Learn: For more detailed instructions, check out the Void Fill and Green Wrap section of our video tutorials page.

Did You Know? If your company goes through 20+ cases of GreenWrap each year, consider a refillable dispenser instead. Learn more.

 

Tissue Paper

recycled tissue paper for shipping

Shop Tissue Paper or Order A Free Sample

Dust & Scuff Protection

What It Is: Lightweight paper that is slightly translucent and extremely pliable. Because decorative tissue paper is lightly calendared, it does not contain the “fuzz” that some types of paper give off, making it a great internal wrapping solution to protect items from dust and scuffs while providing a beautiful presentation. All of our tissue has a neutral pH, making it anti-tarnish and safe for silverware, jewelry, photographs, and more. Available in reams of 480 sheets in 20x30" sheet sizes.

Eco-Features: 100% recycled, either curbside recyclable or compostable (depending on the municipality), and naturally biodegradable.

Great For: Wrapping books, frames, apparel, soap, jewelry, accessories, and more. Recommended for products that don’t need damage or edge crush protection, but for those that need protection from dust and list scuffing. Many companies use tissue paper to wrap their products before placing them into their boxes or bags.

 

Ornament Paper Shred

recycled ornament paper shred for shipping

Shop Ornament Paper Shred or Order A Free Sample

Cushioning

What It Is: Shredded indented Kraft packaging paper that can be scrunched up and laid into a shipping box to provide basic cushioning and make for great presentation. Made from 80# paper with indentations on it, the paper itself is thicker and more durable than our other environmentally friendly packaging paper options. It is 15" wide, making it narrower than our other packaging paper, and comes on a roll of 360'.

Eco-Features: 100% recycled, curbside recyclable, and naturally biodegradable.

Great For: Companies that ship a variety of items in small boxes and need to lay down a cushioning and decorative nest at the bottom. While Ornament Paper Shred does not provide as much cushioning and protection as Corrugated Bubble, it is more decorative and aesthetically pleasing. Because of this, Ornament Paper Shred is typically paired with presentation style boxes, such as Literature Mailers and Tab Locking boxes.

 

Flexi-Hex Air Sleeve

recycled flexi hex sleeve for shipping

Shop Flexi-Hex Air Sleeves or Order A Free Sample

Individual Product Protection

What It Is: A plastic-free alternative to bubble wrap. Flexi-Hex Air Sleeves are lightweight honeycomb sleeves that ship flat and expand to be wrapped around fragile items. The innovative hexagonal cell structure not only provides incredible strength to protect fragile products in transit, but it also creates a sleeve that is extremely flexible. Compact to store and lightweight for economical shipping, when fitted around an object the sleeve expands open and takes on the form of the product within. It is packaging that looks delicate but is simultaneously strong.

Eco-Features: FSC Certified materials, made with at least 76% recycled content, curbside recyclable, and naturally biodegradable.

Great For: Glass bottles, candles, glassware, dishware, and more. Flexi-Hex is a great solution for companies that sell consistently sized items that each need individual wrapping and protection. Flexi-Hex is more operationally efficient than GreenWrap; however, the existing sizes must work for your business. Additionally, it does not provide top and bottom product protection, so consider adding one of the below cushioning or void fill options.

 

Molded Pulp

recycled molded pulp for protective packaging

Explore Molded Pulp

Individual Product Protection | Presentation

What It Is: An eco-friendly alternative to polystyrene packaging solutions. We have worked on a unique molded pulp tray design that allows for multiple bottle sizes to be mixed and matched to work for your business. The design fits a couple of the most common bottle sizes so that it works for the bulk of your customers’ orders.

Eco-Features: 100% recycled materials, potential to use next-gen recovered materials such as agricultural waste) curbside recyclable, and naturally biodegradable.

Great For: Essential oils, CBD oils, tinctures, and other small bottles. Molded Pulp showcases your product while maintaining durable protection for fragile products. The rigid shapes of molded pulp eliminate product damage rates.

 

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Other Protective Packaging Products

There are other protective packaging products on the market that EcoEnclose does not currently offer. Here we review the pros and cons of each.

 

Crinkle Paper

crinkle paper for shipping

Crinkle paper is exactly what it sounds like, shreds of paper that are crinkled up like an accordion. It is used to fill boxes, cushion products and hold them in place, and make for a beautiful presentation.

The main downside is that it can be a little bit messy and cumbersome (with little strands of crinkle paper falling out every time you grab a fistful), both to use and for recipients to discard. Additionally, crinkle paper can be expensive – its base cost, and the cost of shipping the product to your warehouse – so it can be cost-prohibitive for some.

 

Peanuts

shipping peanuts for protective packaging

Loose-fill peanuts are those “S” shaped pieces made with expanded polystyrene (what you get when you inject plastic with air) that can be dumped into a box to fill in all of the excess air. They are easy for shippers to use, and offer good product protection.

While they do offer effective protection, they also have some important downsides. Peanuts are annoying for recipients as they are difficult to clean up and often cling to things and people. They are not aesthetically pleasing and make for a very underwhelming unboxing experience for recipients. And, they are very costly and unsustainable to ship – unlike many other void fill options that are stored in “compact form”. This also means they require lots of room to store.

Most importantly, they come with major environmental challenges. Recycled content options are available (though not with any post-consumer waste); however, they are extremely difficult to recycle. You have to find a specifically designed “difficult-to-recycle” facility for them, a step the vast majority of consumers will not make.

 

Bubble Wrap

bubble wrap for shipping

Here’s a little bit of a fun fact - Alfred Fielding and Marc Chavannes invented bubble wrap when they found a way to seal pockets of air in between two plastic shower curtains to create a three-dimensional pattern of tiny bubbles that they had hoped would become a new wallpaper!

Bubble wrap has a lot of benefits for fragile items – it's moldable, offers great protection, and let’s face it – is super fun to stomp on and pop when you’re done. There are bubble wrap options with a sticky side to them, so they can easily wrap around a product and stick to itself without needing tape.

There are some pretty major downsides though. Thus far, bubble wrap is not available with much - if any - recycled content. Bubble wrap can be recycled, but a recipient would rarely know they can recycle their bubble wrap at grocery store drop-offs. If you happen to be using bubble wrap, be sure to encourage your customers to bring their bubble wrap with them when recycling all of their plastic bags at drop-off locations. And finally, like peanuts, bubble wrap is typically not stored in compacted form so it is expensive to get it delivered to you and takes a lot of room to store.

 

Inflatables

inflatables for shipping

These small plastic pillows of air are becoming more common and can be used for void fill or blocking and bracing. They have their advantages. You can fill in spaces in boxes quickly and easily, with fairly minimal material. They are stored uninflated and flat.

Inflatables don’t, however, make for a good presentation. They often encourage companies to become lax about their box sizes and the amount of space between their products and their shipping boxes – which leads to more expensive, less eco-friendly shipping and customers who become frustrated with what appear to be wasteful practices. They also only make sense if you have an expensive “air filler” machine, so this is only feasible for companies of a certain size. And, once you buy a machine, you are committed to a single supplier for your inputs.

Finally, inflatables are certainly not a sustainability superstar, even beyond the fact that they encourage the use of excessive, wasteful boxes and the shipping of large amounts of air. While they are becoming available with some amount of post-industrial recycled content and can be found in biodegradable and grocery-drop-off recyclable options, the majority of them are still made with virgin poly and are not recycled.

 

Custom Designed Box Inserts - A Void Fill Alternative

custom box inserts for shipping

If you’ve come this far you may be wondering - is there anything else besides these traditional packing filler and presentation options I can consider for my company? If you sell a standard product set (i.e. you typically sell four soaps at a time or have a package of five small perfumes that is very popular), you might consider a custom-designed box insert. This is a great option for lightweight, moderately fragile items (a simple bubble mailer is another option for these types of items).

 

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A Summary Cheat Sheet

The following table summarizes how different traditional and eco-friendly void fill and box filler options could be used, and what functional needs they can meet, depending on how they are utilized.

 

definitive-guide-poly-mailers-comp-analysis-v2.jpg

 

**Can be used for this but not recommended to be used solely for this purpose

 

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Contact Us

Learn more about EcoEnclose's sustainable protective packaging options and browse our entire collection of protective packaging and void fill offerings. We are happy to help with any sustainable packaging solutions you are seeking. Contact Us.

 


 

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