Few things disappoint an excited customer more than receiving a package and opening it to find the goods they’ve ordered have been damaged during the shipping process. And while sometimes it’s genuinely not the fault of the sender, the general feeling of disappointment often comes out in the subsequent returns procedure that ensues.

To ensure incidents like this are kept to a minimum, shippers use loose fill packaging. These seemingly simple additions to packages can actually have a direct impact on a company’s image and its bottom line.

Not to be confused with protective packaging, such as bubble wrap and foam padding, aptly named ‘fillers’ are designed to take up excess space inside cardboard boxes, providing an extra measure of protection. They prevent jostling, rattling and breakage while goods are being shipped.

However, with many different packaging fillers available, how can you be sure you are using the right one for the job?

Here’s the lowdown on the pros and cons of some of the most popular packaging fillers out there today:

1. Newspaper

Good old fashioned newspaper has been a favourite packaging filler for years. It’s light, easy to get hold of, doesn’t take up too much storage space and can be considered ‘green’ due to its recyclability.

But how professional does a package stuffed with old newspaper really look? Then there’s the fact the ink often rubs off onto the products inside the package. This means additional plastic wrap is often needed. Plus, you’ll probably need more newspaper than you think because it compresses quite a lot.

2. Plastic bags

Like newspaper, plastic bags are easily obtainable. They’re also lightweight, provide a level of waterproofing and don’t leave ink on the products. Storing them isn’t a problem either.

Again, though, how professional does a package filled with plastic shopping bags look? Then there are the environmental implications of sending dozens of bags out into the world. While you could argue they are being reused, the reality is that your customers might frown upon receiving a package that’s full of plastic bags.

3. Packaging peanuts

Packaging peanuts are the epitome of fillers. They are relatively inexpensive to buy, can be reused (if stored correctly) and, if plant- or starch-based, can be considered a ‘green’ option. They also conform to whatever they are being packaged with, giving them excellent protective capabilities.

One of the biggest downsides of packaging peanuts is that they require a lot of space and, therefore, cost a lot of money to store correctly. They are also downright messy – for both customers receiving them and shippers sending them. Also, Styrofoam packaging peanuts can be difficult to dispose of.

4. Tissue paper

Tissue paper is often used for packaging gifts. Its bright colours make it perfect for this type of application and can add a touch of class to an otherwise plain package.

On the downside, tissue paper isn’t that hard wearing and looks terrible if it gets crumpled up. Be sure to use acid-free tissue paper if you’re ever shipping silverware or jewellery to avoid tarnishing.

5. Cross cut shredded paper

If you already shred all of your old utility bills and other letters, utilising the resulting shredded paper for packaging filling is a great way to repurpose something that’s pretty much useless otherwise. It’s a fantastic low-cost option that may also show your customers that you are conscious about helping to save the environment.

However, because you need quite a lot of it in each package, the weight implications need to be assessed. There’s also the fact it can make a lot of mess at both ends of the shipping journey.

6. Air pillows

Air pillows are extremely lightweight, take up a fraction of the storage room that packaging peanuts do and look very professional to the person receiving them.

The main pitfall of air pillows is that they aren’t that good at protecting heavier items. Furthermore, the air inside can expand if exposed to too much heat, making them less than ideal for shipping in hot weather.

[Related reading: 5 Items That Need Special Packaging Considerations In The Summer]

7. Corrugated cardboard

When used for interleaving, corrugated cardboard is flexible, lightweight, protective and can be recycled by the recipient.

However, it doesn’t look as good as some other alternatives. It’s also not water resistant, making it less desirable for liquid products that might leak. Creating neat folds in corrugated cardboard is also difficult, which further detracts from its overall appearance.

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