Quick Question Monday : How to reduce the chance of glass breaking during transit?

Shipping glass bottles or jars via parcel carrier (UPS Parcel, FedEx Parcel, USPS Mail, etc.) has always been a challenge, as the carton materials used are meant for bulk pallet handling, where cartons are tightly packed together on a pallet and remain on the pallet during handling, instead of single-piece shipments. These packing methods save space and weight, but offer very little protection during parcel transit as the boxes are transferred from conveyer belts to the truck, and from the truck to your doorstep. While parcel carriers often take great care in handling these packages, breakage does occur as the glass items inside the standard carton box simply don't have enough padding to absorb vibrations and collisions.

The Most Common Option - Over Pack

The most common option to protect against breakage is to place the carton of glassware in a bigger carton box, and fill the space with over packing materials, which acts as a cushioning material to absorb normal vibrations and collisions during transit. There are many kinds of over packing materials in use today, including but not limited to: loose fill peanuts, air pillows, and liquid expandable foam.

Loose Fill Peanuts

Loose fill peanuts, commonly made of Styrofoam or starch, are very common in over packing materials as they are economical to operate, and do not require special equipment such as air pillows and expandable foam. When using loose fill peanuts a layer of peanuts is placed inside the over pack box, then the carton containing the glassware is placed on top of that layer in the center, and the remaining space is filled with the same peanuts materials. Give the over pack box a good shake, so the peanuts can fill up the space, then the carton is sealed and ready to ship.

Loose fill peanuts are reusable, but messy. It is difficult for the recipient of the box to clean up after removing the glassware from the carton (between the static electricity that make these peanuts cling onto your clothing and the rest scattered all over the floor), and Styrofoam is not biodegradable. While the starch peanuts are biodegradable, they often dissolve in water, making the material less useful in humid conditions. This over packing option is often seen as environmentally unfriendly, and not very effective. We have found glassware sometimes breaks during transit when loose fill peanuts are used as they do not fill up all the "nooks and crannies" of the space, causing excessive movement of the glassware.  Heavy cartons can also crush the peanuts, reducing their effectiveness, and leading to potential breakage.

Air Pillows

Air pillows are another common over packing option for glassware, similar to loose fill peanuts, they are sold in two components (plastic bags, and an air pump). Air is pumped into the plastic bags using an air-filling machine just before it's use, and the packing method is similar to the loose fill peanuts method. An advantage of this method is less waste is generated (air is used to cushion the box instead of Styrofoam) but we have found that this method still create potential problem, as it is difficult to provide a tight, effective cushion for parcel transit and handling. It also carries a higher initial investment cost, as it involves investing in an air-filling machine.

Expandable Foam

By far the most expensive over pack option, but the most effective. Expandable foam remains in liquid form, filled into a specially designed bag and upon contact, begins to expand into any shape desired by the packer, up to 280 times it's original liquid volume. The best part about using this system is that it can conform to any shape you need it to be, providing the best cushion and protection during transit. For shipping a carton of glassware, this method is often seen as the best option to protect against vibration and breakage. However, this is also the most expensive option because of the high initial investment cost.

A disadvantage of expandable foam is that while the material is reusable, it cannot be re-shaped after the foam has set. Unless the recipient is re-shipping the same glassware using the same over pack carton, these materials will have to be disposed of.

What Does The Carrier Suggest

UPS calls it the "Double (Over) Boxing Method", and they suggest selecting an over pack box that is at least six inches longer, wider, and higher than the original box, which gives you three inches of cushion to protect against vibration and damage. While different carriers will provide different guidelines, they often provide drop testing services to ensure your over pack method meets their guidelines and standards. While these services can be expensive, some have found them valuable in reducing replacement cost and customer retention.

The Best Result From Us

Since we are not affiliated with any of these over packing material suppliers and parcel carriers, we want to share with you our experience with these materials. We have found the expandable foam, while expensive, provides the best protection for our glassware shipments. While we continue to use air pillows and loose fill peanuts for single pieces and sample shipments, we have transitioned all of single carton glassware shipments to expandable foam over pack. Your result may differ depending on what you ship and how you ship, but it is comforting to know there are multiple options available today to protect your shipments from breakage.

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