What Is Dunnage In Shipping?

When you think of shipping, you might picture massive cargo ships carrying containers across the ocean. But what you may not realize is that there’s an important component that keeps all that cargo safe and secure during transport: dunnage.

While it may not be the most glamorous aspect of shipping, dunnage plays a crucial role in ensuring that products arrive at their destination undamaged.

So what exactly is dunnage, and why is it so important in the world of shipping?

Let’s take a closer look.

Definition and Importance of Dunnage in Shipping

Definition and Importance of Dunnage in Shipping

Dunnage in shipping refers to the materials used to support, protect, and secure cargo during transportation. This can include anything from wooden planks and cardboard boxes to foam pads and airbags.

The primary function of dunnage is to prevent cargo from shifting or moving around during transport, which can cause damage to the goods or compromise the safety of the ship and crew.

Although it is a relatively minor and frequently disregarded part of the shipping industry, dunnage is an essential component that must be present in order to guarantee the secure and effective transportation of products.

Without dunnage, there is a possibility that the cargo will shift or be damaged while it is in transport, which could result in a loss of revenue, a damaged reputation, and even safety hazards.

Dunnage serves to minimize these risks by providing stability and protection for the products being transported, which in turn helps to ensure that the products reach their destination intact and on time.

So, while it may not be the most glamorous aspect of the shipping industry, dunnage is an essential component that should never be overlooked.

Benefits of Using Dunnage in Shipping

Benefits of Using Dunnage in Shipping

Here are some of the benefits of using dunnage in shipping:

  • Stabilization of Goods: Dunnage helps safeguard goods by keeping items from shifting around and colliding with one another in transit. This is of utmost importance for fragile or delicate items, which are at a greater risk of being damaged if they are not properly secured.
  • Protection of Goods: Dunnage can act as a shock absorber, protecting your shipment from being damaged by shocks and jolts that may occur during transport. For long-distance or rough-terrain shipments, this is crucial.
  • Compliance with Shipping Regulations: Many shipping regulations necessitate the shipment to be properly secured and stabilized during transport. The use of dunnage helps carriers stay in compliance with these rules and prevent hefty fines.
  • Cost-Effective Solution: Since dunnage is typically made from inexpensive materials such as wood or cardboard, this method of securing goods during shipping is recognized as being one of the most cost-efficient options available.
  • Customizable: Dunnage can be customized to fit any shipment, ensuring a secure and stable base for products during shipping. This flexibility allows for efficient use of cargo space and reduces the risk of damage caused by poorly fitting packaging.

Types of Dunnage and Their Pros and Cons

Dunnage can be made from a wide range of materials, and the choice of material will depend on factors such as the type of goods being transported, the mode of transportation, and the regulations that apply. 

The primary purpose of dunnage, regardless of the material used, is to ensure product stability and security during transport. With proper dunnage, shipments have a better chance of making it to their final location without damage.

In the shipping industry, some of the most common dunnage types are:

Wood Dunnage

Wood Dunnage

Wooden materials have been used as dunnage for centuries due to their durability, versatility, and low cost.

Some of the most common dunnage materials made out of wood include wood chips, crates, and boxes. 

One of the main benefits of using wooden dunnage is that it can be easily customized to fit any shipment, providing a secure and stable base for goods during transport. Additionally, wooden dunnage can absorb shock and vibrations, protecting delicate items from damage.

However, there are also drawbacks to using wooden materials as dunnage. Wooden dunnage is susceptible to moisture, which can cause the wood to warp or rot, leading to instability during transport.

In addition, wooden dunnage can also attract pests such as termites, which can pose a risk to the entire shipment.

Furthermore, the use of wooden dunnage can have environmental impacts. The production and disposal of wooden dunnage can contribute to deforestation, leading to negative effects on biodiversity and the environment.

Plastic Dunnage

Plastic Dunnage

Plastic dunnage is growing in popularity because it can be used multiple times and is not easily damaged.

It comes in many forms, such as pallets, packing peanuts, bubble wrap, boxes, and other structures, and can be constructed from a wide range of materials, such as high-density polyethylene (HDPE) and polypropylene (PP).

Plastic materials are commonly used as dunnage due to their low cost, durability, and ability to withstand harsh shipping conditions.

One major benefit of using plastic materials as dunnage is that they are lightweight, which can help reduce shipping costs. Additionally, plastic dunnage is resistant to moisture, which helps prevent damage to items during transit. 

However, there are also some drawbacks to using plastic materials as dunnage. One major concern is the environmental impact of plastic waste, as plastic materials can take hundreds of years to decompose.

This can contribute to pollution and harm wildlife. Additionally, plastic dunnage may not be as effective in protecting items from shock or vibration as other materials. 

Paper Dunnage

Paper Dunnage

Lighter and more eco-friendly than other dunnage options, paper dunnage is becoming increasingly popular. It is frequently used as a cushioning or fill material in boxes or other containers, and it is possible to make it out of recycled materials.

Paper materials such as cardboard, kraft paper, and newspaper are commonly used as dunnage due to their availability and affordability.

One of the main benefits of using paper materials as dunnage is their eco-friendliness. Most paper products are recyclable and biodegradable, making them a more sustainable option than other materials like plastic. Additionally, paper materials are readily available, making them easy to source and often less expensive than other types of dunnage.

On the other hand, paper materials do have some drawbacks when used as dunnage. For example, they may not provide as much protection as other materials, such as foam or bubble wrap.

Paper can also tear or puncture easily, which could result in damage to the shipped items. Finally, paper materials may not be appropriate for all types of products, such as those that are heavy or have sharp edges.

Other Materials

Other Materials

Metal, foam, and air-filled bags are some of the other common alternatives to wood and plastic used as dunnage. The choice of material is influenced by the particular requirements of the cargo being transported as well as the method of transportation.

Metal dunnage, such as steel or aluminum, is strong and durable, making it ideal for heavy or sharp-edged items that require extra protection during shipping. However, metal dunnage can be heavy and expensive, and it may not be suitable for all types of goods.

The foam also has excellent shock-absorbing properties, making it an effective material for protecting delicate items during transit. However, foam can be more expensive than other materials and may not be as environmentally friendly.

Air-filled bags, also known as air cushions, are lightweight and cost-effective. They can be easily inflated to fit any size or shape of the product, and they provide good cushioning and shock absorption.

However, air-filled bags may not be as durable as other materials, and they may be more prone to punctures or leaks. It is made out of plastic, but significantly less of it compared to what is used for bubble wrap.

Proper Handling and Disposal of Dunnage

The safety of employees, the preservation of the environment, and the fulfillment of regulations all depend on the correct management and disposal of dunnage. Here are some tips for handling and disposing of dunnage:

  • Handling: Dunnage handling requires the use of protective equipment, including gloves, goggles, and a face mask if required. Employees should be taught safe working procedures to prevent common accidents like cuts and strains on the job.
  • Recycling and Reusing: To lessen environmental impact, dunnage should be recycled or reused whenever possible. For example, wooden dunnage can be used for other packages or recycled into wood chips or mulch. Dunnage made of cardboard can be repurposed as well.
  • Disposal: Dunnage that can’t be repurposed or recycled must be disposed of in an eco-friendly manner. The waste from wooden dunnage ought to be either buried in a landfill or burned in an incinerator. Dunnage made of cardboard can be thrown away in the garbage. It is crucial to abide by disposal laws in your area and prevent unlawful disposal.
  • Hazardous Materials: If dunnage has been exposed to hazardous materials such as chemicals or contaminants, it may require special handling and disposal procedures. Make sure you get in touch with the local authorities to receive guidance on acceptable disposal methods.

Environmental Impact and Future of Dunnage in Shipping

Environmental Impact and Future of Dunnage in Shipping

Dunnage has played a crucial role in the safe shipping of goods for centuries. However, as awareness of environmental issues increases, the use of dunnage has come under scrutiny due to its potential negative impact on the environment.

The production of dunnage, particularly wooden dunnage, can contribute to deforestation and have negative impacts on biodiversity. In addition, the disposal of dunnage can lead to waste and contribute to pollution.

To address these issues, there has been a growing interest in using more sustainable materials for dunnage, such as recycled plastic or biodegradable materials. Some companies have also started exploring the use of reusable dunnage that can be returned and reused for multiple shipments.

In addition to using more sustainable materials, advances in technology have also led to the development of new dunnage systems that are more efficient and environmentally friendly. For example, inflatable dunnage systems can provide a secure and stable base for cargo while minimizing waste and reducing the need for bulky packaging.

As the demand for sustainable shipping practices grows, it is likely that the future of dunnage will involve a shift towards more sustainable and efficient materials and systems.

By prioritizing sustainability and investing in innovative solutions, the shipping industry can continue to ensure the safe and efficient transportation of goods while minimizing its impact on the environment.


By providing a solid base while maintaining goods in position, dunnage is essential to the successful delivery of goods. As explained, dunnage comes in a variety of materials, from wood to plastic to cardboard, and each has its own set of benefits and drawbacks.

New technologies and materials have been created to improve efficiency and decrease the wastefulness of dunnage use over the years.

However, as people become more aware of environmental problems, the importance of environmentally responsible shipping practices has risen, and so has the demand for eco-friendly dunnage.

As a whole, dunnage may seem like a minor aspect of shipping, but it is crucial to ensuring the safe and efficient movement of products.

As the industry continues to evolve and adapt to new challenges, the future of dunnage will likely involve a greater focus on sustainability and innovation to reduce waste and minimize the impact on the environment.

We hope this article has helped you gain a better grasp of dunnage, its uses, and its various types, as well as given you some ideas for how to ship products while minimizing waste and protecting the environment. 

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