Shipping Tips: Packing Peanuts vs. Air Pillows

Air cushion bag of packaging

When it comes to protecting items and filling voids in packages, there are several types of packaging material you can choose from. While packing peanuts were once the product of choice, more and more businesses are turning to air pillows instead. Both work well to cushion objects while in transit, and both are lightweight enough to do so without increasing shipping costs. With major retailers like Amazon making the switch to air pillows, though, many companies are realizing that they may be the better choice.

Should your business be using packing peanuts or air pillows? Let’s take a closer look at the benefits and drawbacks of each.

filling material

Packing Peanuts

Packing peanuts have long been the material of choice for filling voids and protecting products during shipment. Originally made from Styrofoam, they also have insulating properties that make them effective for shipping items that need to be kept hot or cold. They are lightweight, affordable and do not drive up shipping costs.

While they may work well for businesses, they are frustrating for customers. They make opening packages messier — and more difficult. Packing peanuts made from Styrofoam also have a negative impact on the environment. They are non-biodegradable, and research indicates that they take more than a million years to begin to break down in landfills. They are difficult to recycle, and facilities that do so are not available in most areas. The manufacture of polystyrene — the material used to make Styrofoam packing peanuts — contributes to air pollution and poses a risk to human health.

Recently, companies have started producing biodegradable packing peanuts. They provide the same benefits as their Styrofoam predecessors, but they are made from natural, non-toxic materials that dissolve in water. They are slightly heavier than Styrofoam peanuts, though, and they may cause higher shipping costs. They also cost more to produce and, as a result, are slightly more expensive than traditional peanuts.

group of green polystyrene packing peanuts


Air Pillows

Air pillows are the “new kid in town” when it comes to filling voids for shipping protection. They haven’t been on the market nearly as long as other packing materials, but they have quickly become a popular choice for businesses in virtually all industries. And it’s not just business owners that love these convenient cushions; customers do too. They are not nearly as messy as packing peanuts when opening a package, and they are much easier to dispose of.

When it comes to product protection, air pillows are great. They hold products in position away from the other edges of packages, and they don’t allow movement or shifting like packing peanuts and other materials can. Because of this, they provide better protection for delicate items.

Since they are filled with air, they weigh virtually nothing and do not add to shipping costs. They come in various sizes and thicknesses, all of which are affordable. While packing peanuts are bulky to ship and store, air pillows are shipped on rolls and inflated on demand. The rolls are easy to store and take up minimal space in warehouses. Tabletop air pillow systems come in various sizes to suit the needs of just about any business.

The only drawback is that the starter systems can be a significant investment for smaller businesses with limited budgets.

Air pillows are better for the environment, too. Most air pillows are made from HDPE film, which is recyclable. There are also options that are made from biodegradable materials that break down easily in landfills. Manufacturing air pillows requires less energy than manufacturing peanuts, and the process creates fewer greenhouse gas emissions.

The drawbacks of using air pillows are virtually non-existent. They provide exceptional value, work well to protect products during shipment, and are environmentally friendly.

Which Is Right for Your Business?

Both packing peanuts and air pillows fill voids and protect products while in transit. Peanuts have been the method of choice for decades, and for good reason. They’re cheap, lightweight and they get the job done.

Air pillows, however, are the new kid on the block, and they are revolutionizing the way businesses of all types and sizes ship. They weigh next to nothing and take up virtually no space in storage. They keep various types of products safe without the messiness of packing peanuts, and they are not harmful to the environment like Styrofoam packing peanuts.

All in all, air pillows are a solid choice for virtually any business. Their disadvantages are practically non-existent, and they are versatile enough to use for just about any application.

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