The packaging industry in the U.S. alone is a $180 billion enterprise, and it’s growing rapidly due to the increased reliance on e-commerce and at-home delivery during the recent COVID crisis. And, even after the pandemic is over, most experts predict that consumers have grown so accustomed to ordering online that e-business will continue to usurp in-person retail buying. What does this trend mean for sellers? The fact is that it has numerous implications. For instance, it means that anyone who sells anything that gets shipped must understand the basics of packaging material choices. Of course, some materials are better suited to your product than others. That’s a given. But, do you, as a merchant, know how to choose that material that offers the best economic value, gives your customers what they expect, and protects your products during transit? If not, here’s a brief primer on the topic, beginning with a short description what your main choices are in terms of packaging materials.
Packaging Materials: Variety and SelectionWhile there are at least a dozen choices a business owner can make when choosing packaging material, six make up the vast majority of real-world uses. Depending on which sources you check, some say that only four or five types are prevalent, but for our purposes, it’s best to examine the “big six” in order to acquire a comprehensive understanding of when each one might be appropriate.
The Benefits and Drawbacks of Different MaterialsAs is true with most every choice a business owner makes, there are pros and cons for everything. This is especially true when it comes to packaging materials. That’s why it’s so essential for sellers to carefully consider all the positive and negative points about each kind of packaging before deciding which one or ones to use. Here’s a synopsis of each of the six kinds of packaging which lists the pros first and the cons second. Make note of your preferred material’s benefits and drawbacks. Advantages:
- Wood: Wood packaging is used in some of the most beautiful, artistic product packages in the world. Think of some cigar, coffee, and personal goods you’ve ordered that came in wood packages. They look great, are strong, can be price-competitive if you choose carefully, and often carry an aroma that is absent with things like steel, plastic, and aluminum. Wood has a natural look that is hard to match, which is why some sellers are devoted fans of this kind of packaging material.
- Plastic: One of the most favored choices for sellers because it is durable, lightweight, completely flexible, and often clear, plastic is often the go-to packaging material for reasons of cost as well.
- Paper: By far, this is the favorite packaging material for most sellers because of the low cost, attractiveness, ability to print just about any kind of logo or design on it, and other reasons. Paper can be stored on your own site and pre-formed into usable packing units that last almost forever as long as they’re protected from the elements. Some sellers purchase millions of paper packages in advance to get volume discounts.
- Glass: Consumers love glass packaging. Plus, it’s totally recyclable and is excellent at maintaining freshness and full flavor of foods and drink.
- Aluminum: It’s non-toxic, does an excellent job of resisting corrosion, is very light for its strength, protects contents of retail products, and is famous for its long shelf life. It’s easy to recycle aluminum, too. Finally, it’s the top choice for sellers who want a durable package for beverages and food items.
- Steel: Not so common for retail packaging, steel is a vastly popular choice in wholesaling and manufacturing because of its economical price, extreme durability, and easy of recycling. International shippers love steel because drums and large containers can take a beating and still protect contents.
- Wood: Wood’s only downside is that it has the ability to harbor various kinds of pests, so it’s not always a smart choice for long-term or long-distance shipping.
- Plastic: In many cases, it’s awfully difficult to recycle plastic and can be costly to do so.
- Paper: Paper is not the strongest of packaging materials, so merchants need to know their logistics trail quite well before choosing it. In other words, if you’re simply shipping small items through standard postal channels, paper gets the job done. But, for something like international shipping or long-term storage off-site, paper is not always desirable.
- Glass: It costs a lot to manufacture glass and, as even young children know, it’s breakable.
- Aluminum: There’s not much of a downside to aluminum packaging if the material is good fit for your particular product. Some sellers prefer glass containers for beverages, for example, but aluminum is far less costly than glass. In the end, it’s a choice for merchants to make based on their budget and other marketing considerations.
- Steel: There aren’t many disadvantages to steel packaging except for retail sellers, who often find it impractical for standard goods when there are so many other choices available, like paper, plastic, and aluminum. Steel is almost exclusively used for industrial and long-distance shipping of large quantities of goods.
Special Terms to KnowEvery business niche has its own lingo and jargon, and the packaging industry is no different. While there are hundreds of terms that packaging professions use on a daily basis, for sellers there are at least four that are imperative to know. That’s because not only are these terms used by industry experts but have also worked their way into common language. There is some confusion surrounding them, so it’s best for sellers to have the accurate definitions as they select packaging materials for their products. You’ve likely already heard these words used both correctly and incorrectly. Here’s the list, along with an accurate working definition for each word:
- Renew: The word “renew” refers to a packaging material that is biologically-based and can be repurposed for something other than it’s original, primary use. Typically, the raw materials used in a renewable material come from what are commonly called “natural resources,” like sugar, wood, etc.
- Degrade: A degradable material is simply one that will eventually break down into its original chemical elements. It’s a very general term because it makes no reference to how long the process might take. Pretty much everything that exists is degradable.
- Recycle: Here’s the so-called “gold standard” for sustainable packaging practices. If something can be recycled, that means that even after it goes through a chemical process of some kind it can still be used again. We all know the main recyclables these days, which include things like paper, some kinds of plastic, aluminum, glass, wood, cardboard, and many more.
- Compost: A compostable material is similar to a degradable one but with two extremely important differences: it will fully degrade within 80-100 days and will leave no toxic residue. Those two considerations are why compostable packaging materials are often preferred over ones that are merely degradable.