What is dunnage? Meaning, types, and more

What is dunnage?

When we think of a parcel, most of us probably think about the exterior packaging. Is it sturdy? Is it easy to open? Is it sustainable? Does it look great? People who don’t work in eCommerce probably don’t think about interior packaging all that much, even though it’s incredibly important for ensuring our orders arrive safely.

Today, we’re going to be talking about dunnage – the stuff we place inside our boxes to ensure that items don’t get damaged in transit.

What is dunnage?

Dunnage is a common term in the eCommerce industry, referring to the interior packaging we use to eliminate void space and stop our items from moving around inside the box while they’re being shipped. Most orders don’t fit inside a box perfectly, so additional padding is needed to fill in the void space.

There’s lots of types of dunnage that eCommerce businesses use, depending on the item being shipped, the exterior packaging being used, their sustainability goals, and much more.

Dunnage comes in a wide variety of shapes, sizes, and materials, with common examples including peanuts, bubblewrap, and crinkle paper.

Why dunnage is important

Dunnage is essential for a variety of reasons. Without it, there’d be a whole lot more inefficient supply chains, unhappy customers, returns being processed, and damaged products going to landfill.

Here’s why dunnage is important, both to your business and your customers:

Eliminates void space

Dunnage fills in the gaps between items to ensure no slipping, sliding, or jumbling happens as items are shipped across land, sea, and sky.

When travelling long distances, goods are likely to be handled by several pairs of hands, some of which are bound to be gentler than others. Dunnage can protect your stock against rough handling.


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Shock absorption

Some fragile items can break or shatter if they’re moved around too vigorously during transit. Some dunnage, like bubble wrap or air pillows, can absorb much of the impact and protect fragile goods from damage.

Damp protection

Sometimes our parcels can get a little damp, often due to environmental conditions such as rain, humidity, and condensation. This can cause issues for many types of goods, but especially electrical items, food, and books.

Not only are electrical goods often expensive, they’re also highly sensitive to moisture. With that in mind, corrugated paper is often used to protect electronic goods from moisture.
Validates shipping insurance

If you’re shipping high-value cargo, you’re more than likely going to take out shipping insurance. If goods aren’t packed correctly, i.e in a way that doesn’t protect them against damage, then your shipping insurance policy will probably be invalid.

Customer satisfaction

Customers aren’t going to be happy if an order turns up damaged, especially if they can tell it hasn’t been packed in a safe, protective way. Not only will you have to appease a disgruntled customer who probably won’t buy from you again, you’ll also have to foot the bill for a replacement and shipping.

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Types of Dunnage

Bubble wrap

Anyone who’s ever ordered something online will have come into contact with bubble wrap. While popping is fun, bubble wrap’s primary use is to protect fragile items during transit. It’s super cheap to buy and super light to pack, which is why bubble wrap is one of the most-used types of dunnage.

Air pillows

Air pillows work best for lighter items. They prevent items from crashing into each other during transit, and absorb impact as items get moved around. Air pillows are flat by default, but shippers inflate them with air to create a highly protective type of dunnage.


Peanuts are a popular form of dunnage primarily due to their affordability and their ability to cushion objects from impact during transportation. They’re incredibly compact, meaning that shippers have a lot of flexibility and control over how many peanuts they use in each parcel.

Crinkle Paper

Crinkle paper is used both for safety and aesthetic purposes. Like other types of dunnage we’ve discussed today, crinkle paper prevents items from moving around during transit and provides good shock absorption. It’s also commonly used to add a bit of cosmetic flair to the unboxing experience.

Most crinkle paper is environmentally friendly and can be a great choice for businesses looking to reduce their carbon footprint.


Polystyrene dunnage is great for protecting large, heavier items such as furniture, as well as bulky electronic equipment such as games consoles and computers. Polystyrene is often wrapped around these items, almost like a mould, to fix them firmly in place within the outer packaging and to protect them from impact.


Businesses can buy foam dunnage in a variety of shapes and sizes, from sheets to trays to pads. There’s also expanding foam, which is placed into packaging and then expands over a short period of time, moulding to the product to fill void space and provide shock absorption.

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At James and James, we know a thing or two about packing orders. We’ve been packing and shipping orders for over 12 years, and we have all types of dunnage on hand to ensure your orders arrive with your customers safely.

As the first digital-native 3PL, we’ve got fulfilment centres all over the world, meaning we can store, pick, pack, and ship your orders from the location that works best for you. Thanks to our partnerships with leading packaging manufacturers, we’ve got cost-effective packaging options for all types of products, from clothes to books to electronics.

Spend less time worrying about packaging and more time growing your business. Speak to James and James Fulfilment today to learn more about our industry-leading fulfilment service and award-winning inventory management technology.

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