Protective packaging materials: challenges and trends

The boom of e-commerce and the ever-increasing global manufacturing industry are causing more parcels and shipping units to travel the world every day. These developments, in turn, have put a more substantial pressure on protective packaging materials, which face new challenges: their traditional shielding properties must now coexist with sustainable and technological considerations demanded by both consumers and the main industry players.  

We take a look at what protective packaging is and what the next generation of protective packaging materials will look like.

What is protective packaging?


During the distribution cycle, packages are subjected to several menaces to their integrity: from rough handling to shocks or vibration. Protective packaging is the type of packaging that is designed deliberately to defend goods from these damages.

There are different types of protective packaging (foam, flexible and rigid) which include examples such as packing foam, packing paper, packing peanuts, or bubble bags. Their functions vary: from cushioning, void-filling, and wrapping to blocking and bracing different components within a shipping unit. A wide array of sectors require protective packagings such as the food, automotive, electronics, or pharmaceutical industries. 

For instance, protective foam packaging can act as a cushion for different components within a shipping unit and is specifically designed to protect these from bumps and falls

Protective packaging materials 



Expanded polystyrene is a material made of 98% air and 2% of plastic material by-products that presents the following properties excellent as protective packaging materials:

  • Great shock absorption
  • Extremely lightweight
  • Thermal insulation, which can be hugely useful for food transportation
  • Recyclable mono-material

A common use for EPS as protective packaging consists of EPS blocks shaped into sheets, cues, corners, and other forms to help organize and protect goods within a palletized shipping unit. 



Expanded polypropylene is another material for protective foam packaging which is produced by expanding polymers and merging them into molds. Its properties include: 

  • Reusable, recyclable, and long-lasting. It promotes circular economy and inverse logistic processes so that less packaging waste is generated. 
  • Lightweight
  • Extremely resistant against transport and rough handling contingencies

EPP can also be shaped into customized, ergonomic shapes that adapt perfectly to the different shapes of goods.



A new foam material of non-petro-sourced origin that acts as an alternative to EPS and keeps its many benefits, and which favors the circular economy of plastics.

  • Non-petro-sourced
  • Lightweight
  • Smallest carbon footprint
  • Great shock absorption
  • Thermal insulation


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Benefits of protective packaging 


  • Minimizes harm during transportation and handling. The right protective packaging materials provide resistance from damage, minimizing food waste and product deterioration.
  • It’s cost-effective, as it avoids product damage that causes many complications and economic losses (product returns, complaints, the need for discounts…). 
  • Efficiency: new protective packaging equipment gives companies to automate and speed up their packaging processes
  • Branding and customer satisfaction. Protective packaging allows for products to safely reach their destination, which generates a good impression and consumer experience and speaks about a company’s efforts to satisfy customer needs. 


Trends in protective packaging materials



Technology improvements in search for automation, optimization of resources, and efficiency are driving the next generation of protective packaging materials and equipment. 

On the one hand, there’s new equipment that is boosting automation for packaging processes. In the past, manual methods for applying protective packaging materials were the norm. Today, companies are experimenting with packaging equipment that allows them to optimize time and resources, cutting down on labor needs while also reducing material waste. 

On the other hand, new and more efficient protective packaging materials (such as EPP and EPS) have appeared, providing advanced results for the different industries. 


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Custom-made solutions

Custom-made protective packaging allows for delicate or expensive goods to be shipped safely. It’s also a good option for goods that present irregular or peculiar shapes so that they’re adequately sheltered from harm during transportation. 

As an example, there’s the possibility to build customized protective foam packaging. Foam offers the opportunity to create custom, versatile protective packaging that adapts perfectly to each product’s shape by filling voids and generating a protective shelter that braces every component and avoids risks.



Final consumers and companies are increasingly aligned around one thought: packaging waste is an urgent problem that must be addressed as soon as possible. This need is becoming more imperative for end-users: nearly three-fourths (74%) of consumers are willing to pay more for sustainable packaging, according to new research by Trivium Packaging cited by Recycling Magazine,

What’s more, governments across the globe are responding to public demands to cut packaging waste, especially single-use packaging waste. To do so, they’re implementing different legislations to regulate packaging waste and promote sustainable packaging, as reported by the research and consultant firm McKinsey.

These new developments force companies to redesign their packaging and all processes around it, including the possibility to implement circular delivery models

Fortunately, new trends and possibilities in protective packaging materials allow companies to choose sustainable alternatives that align with both consumer and governmental demands. But the rethinking of packaging in search of sustainability goes beyond not choosing plastic.

While some less-demanding products opt for paper-based packaging, EPP and EPS stand out as 100% recyclable materials that also cut off carbon emissions due to their production processes (these materials are made of 98% air). Meanwhile, EPP consists of a reusable alternative that allows companies to decrease their packaging waste. If you are looking for sustainability Knauf Circular has everything you need to give EPS a new life.

Want to know more about the new protective packaging materials that are driving the next generation of packaging? Find out more

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