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Southgate Opinion: How can we survive the void fill crisis?

Southgate Opinion: How can we survive the void fill crisis?

Void fill is manufactured from a number of substances, primarily polystyrene or maize starch foam, polythene film air pillows and shredded paper or card. But a combination of two globally-occurring factors may be set to change the face of this relatively insignificant packaging sector.

Kraft paper is widely used for paper-based void fill systems as its strength gives higher bulk and better resistance to compression, but in the second half of 2017, global demand outstripped supply, and this demand is increasing – for the last 3 years, the US market alone has grown at 2% each year and by October 2017, in spite of revised demand forecasts, Europe still faces a shortfall of nearly 32,000 metric tonnes.

No new kraft paper mills have been planned until 2021 and with all plants already running at full capacity 24/7 there’s no further room for growth.

How does China’s ban on imported waste affect this issue?

Since 2012, the UK has exported 2.7 million tonnes of plastic waste and 3 million tonnes of cardboard waste to China and Hong Kong, but starting in January 2018 China has placed an import ban on waste packaging.

With the prospect of this now accumulating in the UK, many larger companies have already implemented more stringent measures to reduce volumes of packaging waste, and we can anticipate that pressure will increase on all stages of the supply chain to do likewise.

What are the alternatives?

Foam-based void fill needs plenty of storage space before use and doesn’t easily compress afterwards for disposal. Polystyrene foam isn’t good for the environment and maize starch foam’s performance is compromised if it gets wet – good for biodegradability, not so good if they get wet in use. But the answer may be right under many of our noses, or at least in the waste container outside.

Most companies accumulate waste cardboard packaging which is either compacted and sold for recycling or sent to landfill, but this can be an excellent source of on-demand, free void fill. A compact cardboard shredder unit like those from Optimax ( will quickly turn waste cartons into useful packaging. Cartons can be collapsed and stacked until required so need minimal storage space, and Optimax shredders will convert them into high-bulk void fill or protective matting for carton lining and interleaving.

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