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What is Dunnage and How is it Used in Shipping?


No matter what aspect of freight logistics you engage in, there are always additional factors to consider. Even for businesses with vast experience in transporting various types of cargo regularly, the enormous and complex shipping scene leaves little room to master all the intricacies and details involved in every shipment.

The logistics industry is rife with specialized vocabulary, and one term that has been gaining traction with eCommerce businesses is “dunnage.” However, despite its broad significance, dunnage’s precise meaning, scope, and benefits can still be shrouded in confusion and uncertainty. Therefore, we examine dunnage in detail to highlight its value for your business.

What Is Dunnage

In freight shipping, dunnage refers to low-cost waste or surplus materials utilized to load cargo and unload. The primary function of dunnage is to serve as a protective barrier, preventing direct contact between the freight and the surface of a semi-trailer for open-deck shipments. In the case of dry vans and reefers, dunnage can help to prevent multiple pieces of cargo from colliding or rubbing against one another.

Dunnage can be made from several materials, including foam, corrugated paper, wood, and plastic. In some instances, shippers and truckers can utilize V boards as dunnage. Whichever the case, these materials securely strap and fasten cargo in place during transit, preventing any potential damage that may arise from freight movement.

Pallets vs. Dunnage

Pallets and dunnage are both crucial components of the shipping and logistics industry, but they serve different purposes. Dunnage acts as a cushion buffer between the freight and the container surface by filling the gaps between items, preventing shifting and rattling. It can also be custom-designed and used for specific purposes based on the cargo’s type, size, and shape.

On the other hand, pallets are considered high-quality dunnage, mostly made from wood, plastic, or metal. They are flat structures that facilitate easy and efficient loading, unloading, and cargo transportation. Unlike customizable dunnage, pallets typically have a standard size and shape, allowing for easy compatibility with different shipping equipment.

Both wood and plastic pallets form excellent dunnage for transporting freight over long and short distances. However, plastic pallets have a more functional design aimed at resisting pests and withstanding about 4500 pounds of load.

Types Of Dunnage

When it comes to protecting gods during the shipping process, various packaging materials can be used as an infill to provide an additional layer of protection. The options are vast and varied, ranging from conventional materials like bubble wraps to more sustainable materials. Each type of dunnage works best under specific circumstances; hence, we highlight the common types employed for freight shipping.

●     Kraft Paper

Kraft paper is a versatile option used in various infill methods. It features a large size and flexibility, making it easily ripped and wrapped around products or crumpled up to fill empty spaces in a shipping container. As a result, it provides medium-level protection for goods while remaining a cost-effective choice. Additionally, kraft paper is readily available and can be recycled after use, making it an eco-friendly option.

●     Bubble Wrap

When shipping delicate and fragile items, bubble wrap is a popular choice. It is a popular dunnage option due to its excellent shock-absorbing properties and ability to protect items during transportation. Furthermore, shippers can reuse bubble wrap multiple times as long as the bubbles remain intact, making it a cost-effective option for businesses that regularly ship delicate products.

●     Crinkle Paper

Crinkle paper, or repurposed cardboard boxes, can also be an effective and eco-friendly dunnage option for protecting fragile items during shipping. Shredding cardboard boxes into accordion-like sheets can fill empty spaces in a package, cushion fragile items, and prevent movement during transit. The flexibility of crinkle paper allows it to be easily wrapped around glassware, bottles, and other delicate items to provide a high level of protection during shipping. Furthermore, it is also a practical and effective option for reducing environmental footprint.

●     Air Pillows

These are relatively new dunnage options that emerged in recent years. Air pillows are made of plastic and can be inflated to provide a cushioning effect for items during shipping. Despite their lightweight and affordable profile, they are highly effective in protecting items against damage during transit. They have quickly become a popular dunnage choice due to how easily they can be stored and inflated, saving valuable storage space and reducing shipping costs.

●     Foam Wrap

Foam is another prevalent dunnage material commonly used to pad and protect sensitive items, such as electronics, medical equipment, sharp and fragile objects, and more. Foam wraps are highly effective at absorbing shock, preventing the movement of items during transit, and providing excellent protection against potential damage. Foams can also be used repeatedly and recycled when the need arises.

●     Boxes

Shippers transporting heavy or sharp objects usually consider rigid or solid plastic dunnage. These boxes are customizable to become inserts, often molded with a consistent product dimension. These options are more expensive and subject to specific freight requirements; however, they effectively protect large and bulky equipment better than any other option.

These are some of the most popular and effective dunnage types used to protect shipments. Aside from these options, businesses can also explore additional dunnage types, such as bags, packing peanuts, pallets, corrugated paper, and other custom dunnage solutions.

Why Use Dunnage?

Dunnage may be a small but vital part of the packaging process as it helps in protecting practically all types of cargo during the loading and transporting of goods. Whether you’re looking to fill empty spaces, position goods securely, protect sensitive freight from moisture, or ensure items remain firm during transit, the significance of dunnage in logistics cannot be overlooked. Across the logistics industry, dunnage can be used in the following cases;

  • To secure containers
  • To block off broken stowage and fill void spaces between cargo
  • To separate cargo
  • To evenly distribute the weight
  • To provide air passages for adequate ventilation
  • To protect freight from moisture
  • To prevent cargo items from shifting
  • To provide spaces for air circulation in refrigerated places.

Benefits Of Dunage

Within a business, implementing dunnage is regarded as being just as critical as the goods’ shipment. Several vital benefits arise from the appropriate use of dunnage during transportation. Here are some of the most notable advantages of implementing dunnage within the packaging and logistics process;

●     Damage Protection

The primary purpose of dunnage is to safeguard your goods against damages that may occur during transit. Since these goods are often stacked, sorted, and loaded onto different modes of transportation, there is a higher risk of the freight getting damaged.

In such cases, dunnage plays a crucial role by limiting these damages through its ability to absorb shocks and impacts, protect against moisture and maintain the position of goods while in transit. Therefore, proper implementation of dunnage is essential to prevent any damage to your goods when they are on the move.

●     Optimizing Profits

Businesses can optimize their profits in several ways by implementing dunnage. For one, dunnage helps prevent product damage during transportation, eliminating the additional costs associated with replacing or repairing damaged goods. By improving freight protection, businesses can also reduce the number of returns.

Additionally, proper use of dunnage can improve transportation efficiency. Securely packaging freight fosters quicker unloading, which can help businesses to improve their operations and reduce costs associated with extensive and lengthy handling processes. Ultimately, companies can maximize their profits and improve their bottom line by minimizing the costs associated with damaged goods, returns, and inefficiencies.

●     Reducing Labor Costs

Employing dunnage in a tailored manner can significantly impact the labor force’s overall efficiency. With clear and concise requirements, a business can produce a more significant number of packages daily, leading to a higher return on investment and ultimately reducing labor costs.


While dunnage may not be well-known, it remains an essential aspect of shipping for any business. Depending on your product, the wide selection of dunnage options can help ship products to their destination without getting damaged.

It would be best to consider certain factors when looking into dunnage options. Aside from the product type, you should also consider how they will be shipped, the weight, and the packing option. For businesses sourcing logistics to third-party providers, it is best to inquire about the dunnage options and their effectiveness in keeping your product secure.


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