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    April 12, 2023

    What is Dunnage and What is it Used for?

    Dunnage is a term that refers to any material used to support, protect, or separate items during transportation or storage. The purpose of dunnage is to prevent the items from shifting or moving around, which can cause damage or make the items challenging to handle.

    There are many types of dunnage, including airbags, foam, corrugated cardboard, paper, and wood. Every kind of dunnage has its own set of benefits and limitations, and the choice of dunnage depends on the specific needs of the items transported or stored. The shipped items’ size, weight, and fragility determine the type of dunnage used. 

    In a less common use of the term, dunnage can also refer to a dunnage warehouse. This is a small, low warehouse often used for casks and barrels. Dunnage warehouses have been used to store spirits, like whiskey, for centuries and are only now starting to give way to racked warehouses. Here, we will mostly be talking about the first use of the word, to denote protective material for goods being shipped.

    The Importance of Dunnage

    Dunnage is an essential material to protect goods from damage during transportation and handling. Dunnage is important not only in transit, but at every other point in the supply chain, from storage facilities to distribution centers. 

    Consider that: 

    • Warehouses need to find ways to always have the proper dunnage on hand. A WMS can help organize the storage/racking of these packing supplies, as well as maintain supply levels.
    • Heavy dunnage might need special equipment and automation (forklifts, etc.) to move it around and manipulate it. This is true, for example, of wooden pallets.
    • If dunnage is used on incoming items, that material needs disposal or repurposing. This will take additional resources, space, or perhaps shipping to a recycling center.
    • Outgoing shipment of products will be more complicated and expensive if they require “heavy dunnage” such as wooden pallets. Shipping on pallets means additional handling and more supplies (like shrinkwrap to keep the items on the pallet) to prepare the pallets for shipping.
    • Cartonization tools within a WMS can help with dunnage choices and quantities. For example, WMS can analyze the items in an order and inform the packer of the best-fit box to use, along with the appropriate amount of dunnage (air packs, for example). This minimizes wasted space and optimizes the use of dunnage.

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    Why Use Dunnage: Protecting Your Profits

    When packing orders, companies use dunnage to protect the items in some way. The more fragile an item is, the more dunnage it needs. For example, with bottles of wine, pulp containers separate and protect the bottles in the box while also reducing their shifting or moving during transit. On the other hand, if shipping something like a coat, there’s no need for dunnage because it's unlikely to get damaged during shipping.

    While in sorting facilities and trucks, packages risk exposure to harsh weather, damage, and other adverse conditions that cost a shipper money and cause shipping delays. Dunnage helps minimize these expenses in three main ways:

    1. Defense Against Damage
    Dunnage keeps packages from getting damaged when they slide across a truck floor. Proper dunnage can be very cheap, but it protects expensive, fragile, or loose things.

    2. Moisture Protection
    Depending on where goods are being sent, moisture can damage them. The right kind of dunnage, like corrugated paper, keeps valuable items dry. 

    3. Absorbing Shock
    When items are being shipped, they can move around, fall, get smashed, or hit each other, which can cause shock and vibration. 

    Dunnage for shock absorption is important even for items that aren’t fragile. It maintains the structural integrity of the shipping box, which can split open if items puncture the sides.


    Nine Types of Dunnage

    There are many types of dunnage, all made of different materials. Depending on what the type of items a business sells, dunnage can range from a light material like bubble wrap to steel to protect expensive and heavy items. Here are some common types of dunnage used to ship packages:

    1. Paper with Ridges
    2. Kraft Paper
    3. Bubble Wrap
    4. Air Cushions
    5. Foam
    6. Plastics
    7. Wood
    8. Steel
    9. Custom dunnage solutions


    Importance of Reusing Incoming Dunnage

    According to the most recent data from the EPA, containers, and packaging make up one-third of municipal solid waste (MSW), amounting to 82.2 million tons of generation in 2018 (28.1 percent of total generation).
    In other words, setting up an efficient warehouse system that accounts for reusing the dunnage that comes into the facility is not only a great way to save on packaging expenses, but to reduce environmental impact at the same time. 

    From a warehouse standpoint, repurposing dunnage is actually the best way to reduce environmental impact (and also increase ROI). This is due to the glues and other adhesives used to make packaging and dunnage, which renders it not fully recyclable. Repurposing those materials is the next best option to keep it out of landfills. 

    Reusable packaging eliminates the need to recycle or remanufacture single use packaging, reducing CO2 (greenhouse gas) emissions by up to 60%. Not only that, reusable packaging is truly circular, so recovering packaging at the end of its useful life so that materials can be recycled and used to produce new reusable packaging.

    A prime example of this are plastic pallets. They are made from recycled #2 high-density polyethylene (HDPE)  plastic waste – one of the most used plastics in this country – to create multi-use pallets. These e new, reusable, eco-friendly products keep millions of pounds of waste from entering our landfills.

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    Final Thoughts

    Dunnage provides important protection for distributors, 3PLs, and e-commerce shops. While one might think of it simply as protecting packages with materials like bubble wrap, crinkle paper, air pillows, or recycled paper, there is a science to managing dunnage, too.

    If you are responsible for what goes on in either the receiving or the shipping area of a warehouse, think about the types of products sold, shipping methods, how much they weigh, and packaging methods. With the right dunnage, the number of damaged goods goes down, which means the profit goes up. 

    If you are ready to improve the ROI of your warehouse, give us a call. We’ll be happy to help.

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