All About Air-Packaging

You know about air-cushioned packaging, but how much do you really know?

They’re packed in nearly every box you receive when you shop online, and you might even have a bag of them in the basement for your own future packages. You know them, you love them, and you pop them to scare the dog – it’s air-cushion packaging.

Even though it’s not a well-known fact, it should come as no surprise that those ubiquitous air-cushions came from the same guys who brought us bubble wrap. Way back in 1957 engineers Alfred Fielding and Marc Chavannes of Hawthorne, New Jersey, were actually trying to come up with a new kind of textured wallpaper. They sealed air pockets in between two shower curtains to create their very first modern wallpaper prototype. Their product didn’t take off as a wall-covering, so they changed directions and tried to market it as a new insulation for greenhouses. After three years of unsuccessful marketing, Fielding and Chavannes demonstrated the now-legendary protective powers of bubble-wrap to the folks at IBM. Up until that point, sawdust, rubberized, horsehair, and crumpled up newspaper were the most often-used packing materials on the market. When IBM saw how effective bubble-wrap could be at protecting their high-tech cargo, bubble-wrap was officially on its way to superstar-packaging status.

While bubble-wrap was being adopted as the packing material of choice for delicate objects, the market began to see even more new entries. Foam peanuts, made from either starch or polystyrene, and were developed in the early 1960s. Dow Chemical bought the peanut patent and took up a sizeable chunk of the packaging market, but bubble-wrap kept on wrapping.

During the next 30 years the market saw some changes, but bubble-wrap, packing peanuts, and Kraft paper largely continued to hold the top spots in terms of how we protected our packed items. The formulation of foam peanuts was changed to facilitate recycling, and starch-based packing peanuts offered a biodegradable option. Styrofoam was also becoming a popular option, but it often needed to be custom-formed to specifically fit the product and the carton.

Nobody knows the exact inception of the air-filled cushion that we get in all of our Amazon shipments, but best guesses put its first appearance at around 2010. It quickly became the industry standard for packing material for a number of reasons.

Unlike bubble-wrap and foam peanuts, before air-cushions are used, they exist as an uninflated roll of plastic sheets, similar in size to a really big roll of packing tape. Giant rolls of bubble-wrap and bags of foam peanuts require a great deal of space to store, but air-cushions simply need to be run through a machine that inflates and seals each pouch, preparing it for use. This freed up an enormous amount of space for large operations, and it gave a low-cost, effective packing option to smaller operations with limited space and budgets.

When its useful life is over, air-cushions can be punctured and deflated. Many customers re-use the pouches in their own packaging, but the deflated material can also be recycled. Given the dramatic upsurge in the volume of shipments related to internet shopping, the demand for both cardboard and air-cushion packaging has seen a dramatic increase. Concerns about the environmental impact of the increased demand for cardboard and packaging-related plastic have also gone up. This is due in part to the relatively low cost of air-cushion packaging. Retailers can now opt to carry a more limited range of box sizes because it’s easier to ship a small item in a large box that’s stuffed with low-cost, air-cushioned packaging. Custom packaging is the best solution to this problem, using only the necessary amount of materials to achieve a container that best delivers the contents.

If there’s something that we love more than talking about packaging, it’s talking about your custom packaging. Tell us what you’ve got to pack, and we can help you find the perfect size, shape, and materials to protect your goods while they’re on the road or just waiting in your warehouse. When customers open huge shipping cartons only to find tiny products, they’re naturally curious about what kind of decisions are being made by the people on the other end. With Western Industries as your partner, your customers’ orders will arrive safely and they’ll have nothing but confidence about how you get things done.

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