When selecting the right packaging for your products, there are three things to consider: cost, utility and aesthetic. Packaging is much like the clothes you wear: It makes a statement about your company before the customer ever sees your product.

Some companies, like Apple, spend a lot of time selecting their materials and designing their packaging to make opening the box an impressive experience for their customers — an experience equivalent to the cost of their product. However, when buying a box of nails, utility is much more important than aesthetic.

Classification of Packaging Materials

Product packaging can be classified into two categories: primary and secondary packaging. This applies to any company sending items in bulk or for businesses sending products directly to the customer via mail or courier.

Primary packaging is the final packaging separating your product from your customer. This could be the box and wax paper for breakfast cereal or the cardboard box containing a laptop. For consumer goods, primary packaging often becomes an extension of the product based on its design, colors, use of logos or, like a Coca-Cola bottle, the package's shape.

Secondary packaging is the packaging that contains individual units of your product, like the cardboard carton containing an item you ship directly to a customer or the shrink-wrapped pallet containing 100 laptops. Secondary packaging is used to get the product to distributors and retail outlets in bulk. Its purpose is to protect the products while in transit or when being stored before sale.

Types of Packaging Materials

  • Plastic: The most common package material, plastic can be rigid or flexible, and it's light in weight. Plastic resin ranges from polyethylene terephthalate used for bottles to low-density polyethylene used for egg cartons and loose-fill packing peanuts.

  • Glass: Includes bottles and jars for food, cosmetics and other products

  • Metal: Used primarily for food and beverage cans containing anything from beans to soft drinks

  • Paper and paperboard: Includes cardboard boxes. In 2017, the recycling rate for corrugated boxes was 88.4%, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

Types of Packing Materials for Shipping

When shipping products to your customers, your choice in packing materials should be determined by the product you're shipping. A T-shirt, for example, doesn't require the same packing materials as a crystal vase. In most cases, nonfragile products can be placed in a sturdy cardboard box with filler material such as:

  • Crumpled paper
  • Tissue paper
  • Packing peanuts
  • Popcorn
  • Bubble wrap
  • Foam

Anything that can be damaged by dust or water should be placed in a plastic bag before going in the box. Sensitive products, like cameras, cell phones or laptops, should be shipped in their primary packaging with that box being placed in a second box for shipping. Surround the primary box with foam or bubble wrap to keep it from moving in the secondary box.

Even if you don't sell a lot of products, if a customer is paying you for a product, you should take care in selecting your materials. Don't reuse boxes from other companies with their logos on them, and don't use used boxes that other customers have sent back with a return. Everything you use should be clean and in good condition.

Food Packaging Laws

If you're in the food industry, it's vital that you keep yourself informed of laws regarding packaging food, from the FDA down to your local government. Improper use of packaging materials for food can be a health hazard, and the use of disposable plastic foam packaging for food is being outlawed in many jurisdictions.

As an example, Bisphenol A, or BPA, is a common component in plastic bottles and the lining of metal lids on jars. The FDA allows the use of this chemical in most foods, with the exception of food intended for infants. BPA cannot be used in baby bottles, formula packaging or sippy cups.