Sustainable cushioning material

Sustainable cushioning material - Holding styrofoam chips in your hand

The primary job of cushioning material is just that - to cushion, and to protect so well that the goods survive the rigors of parcel or pallet shipping undamagedly. Over the last few years, however, there has been a growing demand for cushioning material sustainable must be able to upholster. And this is a claim that not every upholstery can fulfill, and even with seemingly sustainable solutions, there are aspects that should be considered in order to find the most sustainable solution for your own application.

What cushioning materials are there?

Let's first get an overview of the different types of cushioning that are available.

In addition to the classic bubble wrap rolls, packaging chips made of polystyrene are also widely used. Packing paper is also available in various forms for manual or machine processing. Molded foam is sometimes used for special or very specific goods. Increasingly popular, however, are air cushions made from various films or paper which are produced directly at the packing station.

Are packaging chips sustainable?

If packaging chips are made of polystyrene or a comparable material, they are of course not particularly sustainable in terms of production and disposal. Many companies now use packaging chips made from corn starch, which are biodegradable. However, this has the disadvantage that moisture causes the chips to dissolve.

Tthe fundamental disadvantage of all packaging chips is the large amount of space required for the large bags or boxes and the relatively high material consumption. This means that while biodegradability can be guaranteed, packaging chips will never achieve the sustainability that is possible with air cushions.

Corn starch obtained from corn for polystyrene packaging chips

Is wrapping paper sustainable?

Paper is considered a particularly sustainable material – especially by end customers - which is why more and more paper is being used throughout the packaging industry. However, as with paper packaging tape, there are two sides to the story.

While it is true that fewer trees need to be felled for modern-day paper with recycled content and the material can be returned to the production cycle afterwards, other aspects of paper upholstery are not in the interests of sustainability. The production and especially the recycling of paper require a high level of water consumption.

Finally, padding with paper uses a lot of material, as the entire void is filled with paper and hardly any air remains.

Are air cushions sustainable?

As the name implies, air cushions consist of almost 100% air. This makes them currently the most sustainable cushioning option in terms of material consumption and therefore CO2 emissions. Although the cushions are made of plastic, only around a tenth of the material used for paper cushioning is consumed.

As the cushions are only filled with air by machine at the packing station, storage is extremely space-saving, which in turn has a positive effect on sustainability. As air cushions are also available in different versions, the carbon footprint can be further improved in many cases by switching to a thinner film, for example. There are also variants with recycled content or made from potato starch, which, unlike corn starch, is a waste product from the food industry. Air cushions made of paper are also possible.


There are various factors when it comes to sustainability. While some materials are recycled or biodegradable, others can minimize consumption to such an extent that the carbon footprint is greatly improved. In any case, cushioning material, like any packaging, is dependent on the respective application, so it is worth consulting a packaging optimizer.