Ensuring the safe delivery of customer orders is part of any ecommerce fulfillment strategy. Packages undergo a lot of stress during transit, including handling at multiple destinations, transfer between modes of transportation, and temperature fluctuations. If not properly protected, your product could arrive damaged, spelling disappointment for your customer and a financial loss for your business. That’s where dunnage comes in.

What is dunnage?

Dunnage refers to the padding materials that protect goods from damage during shipping. Dunnage can be anything from packing peanuts to solid plastics. It provides cushioning within the package so the product does not move within its box or mailer and arrives at its destination in prime condition.

A close up image of wooden pallets. Pallets are considered a type of dunnage.
Dunnage can be anything from bubble wrap to wooden pallets used to create space between bundles of inventory during freight shipment.

Why is dunnage important?

Some items, like pillows or apparel, don’t need dunnage because they’re not fragile—a pair of pants can be shipped in a standard poly mailer without much worry. But products that are breakable or sensitive to moisture need dunnage to keep them protected during transit. 

Dunnage has three primary uses: 

  • Damage protection: Anything that could break if not handled carefully should be packaged with dunnage to ensure it arrives pristine. Packages tend to shift in transit—dunnage can prevent the contents of a box from sliding around during movement. 
  • Shock absorption: As they move through different distribution centers, packages are likely to be tossed, dropped, or squished—just picture the luggage on a baggage carousel at the airport. Dunnage absorbs the shock of these collisions. 
  • Moisture protection: Between weather and temperature fluctuations, there’s a high likelihood your package will encounter moisture as it travels. Dunnage can wick moisture away from sensitive products like electronics. 

What are the types of dunnage?

Dunnage comes in many shapes and sizes to accommodate different products and protection requirements.

  • Bubble wrap: Perhaps the most common form of dunnage, bubble wrap is useful for shipping fragile products like glass. 
  • Air pillows: Like giant bubble wrap, air pillows are usually used to fill space to keep an item from sliding around inside its packaging. 
  • Packing peanuts: These small foam pieces provide cushioning and are useful when shipping oddly shaped products. 
  • Foam inserts: If you’ve ever unboxed a new television or computer monitor, you’ve likely noticed the foam inserts that are custom-molded to the sides of the technology. These provide both cushioning from shock and keep the product from leaning against the sides of the box. 
  • Kraft paper: Kraft paper is the nondescript brown filler that is often crumpled and used to fill space inside large boxes that hold an oddly shaped item. It’s made from recycled paper and is commonly used because it’s eco-friendly, effective, and above all, it’s cheap. 
  • Corrugated paper: This type of dunnage looks like very thin cardboard. It can withstand a broad range of weight and provides moisture protection.
  • Wood: Wood can be used as dunnage for exceptionally strong and heavy goods, like unassembled furniture. It’s typically used to create a barrier between items in the same package.
  • Industrial dunnage: Though rarely used for direct-to-consumer ecommerce, solid plastics and steel are also used as dunnage. These are primarily used in industrial shipping of high-value items. 

These are the most common types of dunnage, but if your product is exceedingly fragile or has specific, unusual dimensions, you may choose to work with a dunnage provider to design custom padding and protection for your product.


How much does dunnage cost?

If you’re using a 3PL, the cost of common dunnage materials like bubble wrap and Kraft paper is likely included in your base order fee—the starting price for packaging an order. 

If you’re fulfilling orders in-house, the cost of dunnage materials varies, but it’s generally not an enormous expense for ecommerce retailers. Kraft paper sits on the low end of the cost spectrum, with foam at the higher end. Corrugated paper and bubble wrap fall somewhere in the middle. 

More robust dunnage for heavy-duty shipments, like wood and industrial dunnage, is significantly more expensive, but that cost is offset by the average order value of the product.

A lot of the warehouses refused to eliminate plastic from their packaging, which immediately meant they were not an option for us.
David Bronkie
Co-founder, Siblings

What about eco-friendly dunnage?

Dunnage is a necessary evil for eco-conscious ecommerce retailers. All that padding and protection is thrown away by the customer as soon as the package arrives, creating an enormous amount of waste. 

Fortunately, eco-friendly dunnage does exist. Kraft paper is the most obvious green solution, because it’s made from recycled paper—it’s already on its second life. But other advancements have been made for traditionally harmful dunnage materials, like packing peanuts. Once made exclusively from styrofoam, which takes about 500 years to decompose, biodegradable packing peanuts are now available, made from an organic starch that breaks down in water. 

Companies that feel strongly about minimizing their carbon footprint should evaluate 3PLs based on this need. Many fulfillment providers will refuse to eliminate specific materials from their packaging for individual brands.




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