When Southgate Packaging realised that several external factors were likely to affect the availability and sustainability of traditional void fill materials, they wanted to raise awareness of several alternative products and systems.

How to Survive the Void Fill Crisis

Void fill is manufactured from a number of substances. Primarily composed of polystyrene or maize starch foam, polythene film air pillows and shredded paper or card. The relatively insignificant packaging sector is set to change due to two globally occurring factors.

Increased cost of Kraft Paper

Paper-based void fill systems widely use Kraft paper. Its strength gives higher bulk and better resistance to compression. In the second half of 2017, global demand outstripped supply and this demand is increasing. For the last 3 years, the US market alone has grown at 2% each year. Europe still faced a shortfall of nearly 32,000 metric tonnes by October 2017.

Now in 2020, the industry is booming. America estimates revenues worth two billion dollars by the end of 2027. The growth of interest in sustainable packaging and caring for our planet has implemented a change in the way business is carried out.

China’s ban on imported waste

Since 2012, the UK has exported 2.7 million tonnes of plastic waste and 3 million tonnes of cardboard waste to China and Hong Kong, but in January 2018 China placed an import ban on waste packaging. There was a drop of 72 thousand tonnes of waste being exported, compared to the previous year, according to figures.

With the prospect of this now accumulating in the UK, many larger companies have already implemented more stringent measures to reduce volumes of packaging waste. We can anticipate that pressure will increase on all stages of the supply chain to do likewise.

What are the alternatives?

Foam-based void fill needs plenty of storage space before use and doesn’t easily compress afterwards for disposal. Polystyrene foam is bad for the environment, whilst maize starch foam’s performance is compromised when it gets wet. Although the foam is good for biodegradability, its productivity deteriorates if they get wet in use.

But the answer may be right under many of our noses, or at least in the waste container outside.
An excess of waste cardboard packaging is accumulated by companies and is compacted and sold for recycling or sent to landfill. This can be an excellent opportunity for on-demand, free void fill.

Products such as the X-FILL automatic paper void fill system can process paper up to 1.7 metres per second. Alongside the patented anti-jamming paper fee and load and go system it will dramatically increase time efficiency as opposed to other void fill systems.

Alternatively, a compact cardboard shredder unit like those from Optimax® will soon turn waste cartons into useful packaging. For example, the three-phase carton shredder has a feed rate of 13m per minute and an uninterrupted run time.

Cartons can be collapsed and stacked until required, so need minimal storage space. The shredders will then convert them into high-bulk void fill or protective matting for carton lining and interleaving.

No process or product will single-handedly resolve this growing problem, but now is the time for us to look at options that will extend the useful life of existing packaging rather than creating even more waste.