When did man first realise that stuffing something into a space inside a box, sack or flagon would stop the contents rattling around and getting damaged? We don’t know, but it must have been going on for centuries in an improvising kind of way.
Visit any antiques market and you’ll notice a pile of used newspapers on almost every stand, waiting to be wrapped around a pair of porcelain dogs or a cut glass vase. Even the earliest-known example of a product used specifically for void fill – bubble wrap – was originally invented as a wallcovering.
These days, void fill has become something of an art form, with a wide range of products designed solely for this purpose. I once met a man who had built up a nice little business, drilling holes in wood all day to make decorative shavings for gift hampers.
Let’s look at the types of void fill more commonly used in industry and distribution.
- At the lightest end of the scale you have tissue paper. With a pH value of 6-7 (neutral) acid-free tissue won’t discolour or tarnish precious metals, gifts or fabrics. Take care with bleached or coloured tissue, which are popular for presentation packaging, as migration of acids or dyes can spoil goods.
- Next up is news offcuts, the unprinted, unused version of old newspapers. This isn’t as soft as tissue but is better for bulking up in larger voids and more resistant to tearing or puncturing.
- Kraft paper is stronger still and also offers a certain amount of waterproofness (we’re talking about slight humidity or accidental splashes here, not total immersion). Pure virgin kraft is stronger and more water-resistant than imitation kraft.
Kraft paper is also used in void fill systems such as the X-FILL and its sister product X-PAD which produces high-bulk protective pads for lining cartons and interleaving. Both systems create large volumes of material on demand, from compact paper packs that need little storage space before use.
While we’re on the subject of paper-based void fill it’s worth mentioning cardboard shredders, because these are geniuses at creating free void fill material from scrap corrugated cartons.
If you have a lot of waste corrugated cartons from inbound goods and are paying good money for brand-new void fill, then a shredder is almost definitely the thing for you. Instead of baling and selling those scrap cartons for recycling, you can extend their useful life by turning them into free void fill.
Some shredders, such as those in the Optimax® range, can be easily switched between making high-bulk void fill and protective matting for carton lining, interleaving and wrapping, while others cut the corrugated into short, narrow loose-fill chips. Incidentally, these are also great for free pet and equestrian bedding.
Moving onto loose fill, polystyrene ‘peanuts’ are thankfully on the decrease as these are non-biodegradable and being as light as a feather, easily blight the countryside with the slightest breeze. Biocompostable peanuts made from vegetable starch are more eco-friendly but have the slight disadvantage of dissolving in contact with water.
Air pillow void fill is the Godzilla of bubble film – if you enjoy popping bubble film, you should definitely try this. It’s available as individually perforated pillows for void fill or as perforated quilt sections for carton lining and interleaving, and is clean, dust-free and has a low compression ratio.
It uses minimal storage space as before use, the pillows are wound tightly onto a compact roll, then are inflated and sealed on demand at the packing station. After use, they are easily punctured and deflated for low-volume disposal.
Standard air pillow film is made from low density polythene, but eco-friendly alternatives such as Pacplan® Biofilm™, made from potato starch and fully biocompostable to EN 13432, offer equally high performance.
X-FILL and X-PAD kraft void fill systems, Optimax shredders, Pacplan AirWave® and Biofilm air pillow machine and films are all supplied by Southgate® through their extensive network of approved distributors throughout the UK and across Europe.