Packaging Solutions: Selecting Between Paper and Air Cushioning


Protective packaging solutions and cushioning systems are essential in many industries such as logistics, e-commerce, and electronics, where goods need to be safely delivered from one location to another. Within this, two popular packaging and cushioning solutions stand out: paper cushioning systems and air cushioning systems. Each method comes with their pros and cons and  making a decision between the two warrants careful consideration. Read on to uncover their distinguishing traits. Sunstream Industries is also able to conduct a site survey of your operation to help you determine which is the best solution for your operation.


Paper Cushioning


1. Sustainability

Ranpak’s paper cushioning helps to improve supply chain performance and cost while reducing environmental impact, by replacing traditional petro-chemical-based packaging with a sustainable alternative – paper. These are crafted from renewable resources like responsibly managed forests and recycled paper, making it an environmentally conscious choice. Not only is this recyclable, renewable, and biodegradable, but it is also easy to dispose of. Designed with sustainability in mind, paper cushioning upholds its commitment through recyclability and biodegradability.


2. Durability

Delicate or fragile items are often a cause for concern during shipping. Fortunately, there is a reassuring solution in the form of paper cushioning. Thanks to its exceptional shock-absorbing capabilities, this packaging method preserves the integrity of even the most delicate contents and substantially reduces the likelihood of transit-related harm. In essence, its excellence in cushion packaging acts as a protective barrier against the unavoidable perils of the shipping journey.


3. Adaptability 

With various shapes, sizes, and densities available, customisation of paper cushioning becomes an easy process, ensuring a snug fit for any item, whatever its requirements. This adaptability extends to reusability and repurposing. After fulfilling its primary role of protecting the contents of a package, paper cushioning can be reused for other packaging needs, helping to cut down unnecessary wastage.


Adaptability-paper cushioning


4. Costs

However, this eco-friendly method might involve slightly higher material costs compared to certain alternatives. When paper cushioning is being produced, the conversion process of raw materials includes refining, drying, pulping, and shaping of paper fibres. These steps can be resource-intensive, incurring greater production expenses.


5. Storage Space

Paper cushioning is generally bulkier than materials like plastic air pillows or foam. This can be attributed to its fibrous composition and three-dimensional structure, both of which contribute to its cushioning properties. This means you would need more physical storage space, in order to store the same volume of packaging material.


Air Cushioning


1. Materials

Air cushioning comes with a lightweight design and air-filled pockets that form a protective shield around items. This solution comprises 99% air and just 1% film, minimising freight and storage costs. During disposal, crumple up the film, let the air out and recirculate it as a recyclable material. Air cushions also save our customers a lot of packaging waste. Due to its user-friendly design and inflatable properties, air cushioning accelerates the packaging process, achieving seamless efficiency in busy logistics environments.


Materials-paper cushioning


2. Flexibility

Available in various formats, such as rolls of film or pre-inflated pillows, air cushioning can be effortlessly fitted into a wide array of packaging configurations. It can be flexibly used with containers of different sizes and shapes. 

Airbags are also great for customers with space constraints as the packing materials occupy less storage space compared to other forms of cushioning such as paper packaging, and styrofoam chips or peanuts. Air cushion machines produce the air cushions on the spot and save space at the packing station.


3. Environmental Impact

Unlike styrofoam, which is notorious for its environmental impact due to its non-biodegradable nature, air cushions present an eco-friendly solution that significantly reduces the carbon footprint. They are made up of 99% air, utilising a minimal amount of film (only 1%). This minimal use of material not only conserves resources but also reduces the overall volume of waste generated. In contrast, styrofoam products use a significant amount of raw material and contribute significantly to environmental pollution due to their slow decomposition rate.

Furthermore, recycling routes for polyethylenes have long been established. From the resulting plastic residues, new and durable products are being produced. Compact air cushion rolls are easy to process, space-saving and recyclable.


4. Suitability 

Despite its versatility and packaging effectiveness, air cushioning may not be the optimal choice for exceptionally delicate or heavy items. Here’s why:

  • Limited energy absorption

Air cushioning may lack the level of protection required for items that are extremely delicate items like glassware, ceramics, or intricate electronics. This limitation stems from constraints in absorbing and evenly distributing energy during forceful impacts. 

  •  Insufficient support

For exceptionally heavy items, air cushions might not provide the necessary support to prevent movement and damage within the packaging. Heavy items could cause the air cushions to compress or deflate, diminishing their protective capabilities.

  •  Items with sharp edges

Air cushions may pop when used to package items with sharp items.

Learn more: Stretch Film Wrapping Mistakes and How to Avoid Them


The choice between paper and air cushioning extends beyond a simple selection between two techniques; it also reflects the objectives of your business. The decision should showcase your business’s determination to protect your offerings and your pledge to adopt responsible approaches. 

Sunstream Industries provides an entire ecosystem of reliable, efficient, and environmentally friendly packaging and warehousing solutions. Contact us today to learn more.


January 24, 2024

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