Paper or plastic void fill?

The steady rise of web orders has resulted in huge numbers of boxed consignments this year. The debate continues on how to protect the products and void fill these cartons – paper or plastic? It is beyond question that both systems work well, but what will work best for you? If you’re fulfilling large numbers of postal orders on a daily basis, every second counts and sourcing the most efficient, ergonomic overall solution becomes more important than sourcing the very cheapest carton or void-filler.

If we set aside loosefill for now due to its bulkiness (who has got access to unlimited storage space these days?) there are handy machines available which transform compact base material into bulkier protection on-demand at the press of a switch. So let’s look at the advantages and disadvantages of paper and plastic void fill.

Paper Void Fill

Taking paper, for now, usage has been steadily increasing from 30% in 2019 due to the current resistance to plastic. Choosing fully recycled paper (PCW – Post-Consumer Waste) helps to ‘close the loop’. This means it helps to create a demand for the wastepaper that we all set aside and send for re-processing. The message and the intent is good, but paper (and more so recycled paper) is recommended to be used in lighter, smaller cartons where the total weight of goods in the carton is below 7 Kg.

Papertech Papillon for Paper Void Fill

Papillion paper void fill

Papillion paper void fill

For the purpose of this article, we shall focus on the paper system known as the Papertech Papillon. The paper comes boxed, flat-packed in 2-ply recycled 70gsm brown kraft for everyday use. For a small premium, there is availability in white and this has been popular both for pharmaceuticals and for the gift trade, especially where the carton may also be white. Building on this, there has been consistent demand for coloured papers, which is where the Wow Factor Unboxing Experience really comes to the fore!

Black (often partnered with black boxes) has been especially popular, followed by yellow, red and navy blue. Take a look at the pictures to see how this could work for you and your customers!  Make the most of the brief but precious interaction with your customer as they open up to find neatly wrapped and beautifully presented products in pristine condition! In an online world, this is your face-to-face with your customer!

Whilst coloured tissue is quite exquisite and much more likely to lend itself to colour-coordination to your brand, being available in a palette of some 30 popular shades of acid-free paper – there are UK companies successfully fulfilling masses of gift packs daily using the above primary-coloured imitation Kraft papers instead of the coloured tissue. The savings in material and time add up!! This is paper void fill, product protection and beautiful product presentation all in one!

And when it’s all over, the carton and the void-fill-wrap can potentially be re-used or added to the paper recycling stream in order to start another journey and close the loop again! For peace of mind, the inks used for flood-coating the papers are fully compatible with the recycling process, yet are non-toxic and colour-stable.

The machine, which can be hired may attach to the worktop or, where space allows, a height-adjustable mobile holder with shelving for two boxes of paper is highly recommended. This can be sited within your packing line to feed into the cartons (or to fill a hopper), being programmable to produce pre-set lengths or lengths on-demand via button or footswitch. At maximum speed, it can convert up to 40 meters per min, so can keep up with 2 or more packers!

Plastic Void Fill

Almost twice as popular for wrap and void fill has been the increased use of plastic. A robust and reliable medium, it comes in many forms such as bubble wrap, and most recently – inflated cushions or quilts of air. This is essentially a more refined version of bubble wrap, but much more adaptable to your product requirements.

Airtech Air Pillow Void-Fill System

Air pillow plastic void fill

Air Pillow plastic void fill

So we’re going to focus on another simple machine aided void fill,  the Airtrech Air Pillow System. These are inflated polythene cells, filled with air and supplied on demand using an air machine.  AirPillow provides reliable shock resistance for sensitive loads weighing a few grammes up to around 12 Kg, whilst adding very little weight overall.

There are 2 major formats: air pillows in a range of popular sizes at 20cm width and also 16-pocket cushion which is wider and shallower, thus lending itself to wrapping around the product(s) as well as being a void fill solution. In other words, this may be used in a similar fashion to large bubble wrap, being approximately 35cm wide. For best results, the pillow should be just soft enough to conform to the shape of what it is intended to protect…not necessarily rock hard as one might have imagined!

Run lengths, pressure and speed are all adjustable to suit to the size and weight of products to be packed. Control can be by button or footswitch, leaving hands free for packing. Tearing to size using the regular perforations provided allows the exact amount to be used per box and eliminates wastage. Best of all, this is a cheaper option in terms of pence per volume.

Airtech film is made from at least 50% recycled plastic, with the stated aim of containing 100% recycled plastic in 2021-2022. The pillows or pockets are strong enough to be re-used for several trips and then when they are no longer required, they can be simply deflated and join the LDPE (Low-Density Polythene) recycling stream along with ‘carrier bags for life’ and freezer bags etc. Here is another closed loop!

The rolls of polythene are most compact, the pouches generally being 2% plastic and 98% air. Depending on the percentage of air-fill, one small roll 20cm wide film can make up into the equivalent of around 20 bags of loosefill. And for those looking closely at the figures – 0.125cuM can make 9.7cu M by adding air…a factor of 77 times the volume! In terms of real cost and usability – you can find out more about the system here.

So Which Void Fill is Best for Your Products?

So there is no right or wrong answer here, we have seen that both solutions work well and there are pros and cons for both. If we were to ask your Marketing Department or your Customer Experience team what would their response be? What would they say your customers are asking for?  For us at Acopia, we’re seeing a lot of our own customers asking for eco-friendly packaging and void fill as they come under pressure from their customers and end-users in turn. With 67% of consumers preferring to see their online purchases arriving in paper packaging, we are certainly seeing a shift in demand to paper.

If you would like to know more about paper and plastic void fill solutions, we would be happy to help. If you would like samples of any of our NEST eco-friendly packaging range (created in response to customer demand) please get in touch using the form below.

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