There are many reasons why in a green focused world where paper has been crowned undisputed king, inflatable plastic products have become the fastest growing packaging product segment for void fill and interior protective packaging. It has been proven economical when all factors are considered, very effective in terms of product protection and also very environmentally friendly from several different perspectives. 

What is Inflatable Packaging?
It is essentially a plastic bag or pillow that is inflated with air using a piece of equipment that is usually provided by the manufacturer of the bags at minimal or no cost when specific volume usage requirements can be met. It is inflated on an "as needed" basis so inbound shipping costs and carbon footprint are minimal compared to other solutions such as pre-inflated bubble packaging or loose fill products like foam peanuts. This also makes un-inflated bags compact, taking up very little space in your warehouse or at your packing stations.

Inflatable packaging materials are of course waterproof, do not have the "musty" smell of some paper void fill products and at a time when shipping rates are increasing to all time highs, they are very lightweight. They can also be reused many times, over extended periods of time which is great from an economic and environmental stand point. 
Perhaps even more importantly, operators/packers usually prefer inflatable packaging because they are dust free and much easier on their hands compared to twisted paper systems that can result in paper cuts or more serious repetitive motion type injuries. 

Two Common but Very Different Uses for Inflatable Packaging:
1. Void fill — this is the most common need when the shipper box is a little larger than the product(s) it contains. If the box is sized correctly, this difference in extra, "air" space can be easily filled with a minimum of inflatable pillows. 
2. Blocking and Bracing — this differs from a standard void fill application when the product being shipped is heavy, possibly fragile and often times of high value. You can usually anticipate some shifting of a heavy, dense product within the shipper box so the objective becomes to immobilize the product during shipment. In these cases, a heavier gauge or design of plastic inflatable may be required. 

Sustainable Packaging Inflatable Options
There is a wide variety of different material structures in different formulations, sizes and gauges available but here are a few basic differences and points to consider:
• Biodegradable versus recycled plastic content — gauge for gauge, recycled plastic is usually a little less expensive compared to biodegradable formulations but mostly it comes down to preference. We have worked extensively with both and have found no significant difference in performance. 
• Recyclability — buyer beware: NOT all products of this type are recyclable. Even though the reusability of these products is a major advantage, they do eventually wear out or deflate. When that time comes, it is so very important for the consumer to know where and how they can be recycled.
• Size and shape — even though there are popular or stock products such as a typical 4" X 8" inflatable pillow, if you have volume and unique needs, custom size and shape products are not as unusual or expensive as you might think. For example, for heavy duty bracing applications a 2.0 mil honeycomb bubble pattern might work best or a 1.5 mil thick tubular pattern design. It depends on what you are shipping and the size of the area within the shipping box that has to be filled. 

Every application is somewhat different so I usually suggest anyone considering a change; work with a supplier who offers a variety of different packaging products. I'm convinced it improves the odds you will end up with the best packaging solution for your specific needs. As an example, we receive many inquiries who contact us because of their interest in inflatable void fill products. Over half of the time, through the application review process, we help them to determine that is not the best option for them and they end up utilizing a different product solution we offer. Inflatable packaging is terrific but it's not for everyone. 
Download the PDFs to see some examples.
Figure A shows recycled packaging on the right and biodegradable on the left./Media/PublicationsArticle/FigureA_0.pdf
Figure B shows a compact bubble packaging on demand system, which inflates and seals bags as needed. /Media/PublicationsArticle/Figure B_0.pdf
Figure C shows a #19 AirPouch Express. 

View Figure C_0.pdf