Bad Packaging Seems To Be Keeping The Air Pillow Industry Alive

October 17, 2013

Consumerist blogger Laura Northrup regularly writes about what the website calls “The Stupid Shipping Gang.” That is, the gang of companies that send out package after package in comically oversized boxes. In her most recent post, she wonders aloud whether this stupid shipping gang is keeping the air pillow industry afloat.

Speaking from my own experiences, it would seem so. Of course, the packaging I see online is colored by hordes of Twitter users complaining about the oversized boxes that arrived at their door. But still, the first-hand accounts all seem to say there’s an epidemic of air pillows in large boxes. Just take a look at some of the photos we’ve gathered over the last few months from various online sources:

10-15-13 air pillows staples-white-out

I decided to do a little research of my own. I don’t know how many air pillows are produced in America, but I have an idea of how much empty space there is in packaging for them to fill. We know that the average box contains waaay more empty space than it needs (somewhere in the neighborhood of 40 percent, in fact). If you remember a recent infographic, you might recall that eliminating the empty space in all the boxes around the country would save an equivalent of over a trillion air pillows in space.

Screen Shot 2013-10-15 at 4.18.23 PM

A trillion is a pretty hard number to comprehend, so let me break it down for you. It takes about 14 air pillows to fill a 12″ x 12″ x 12″ box (and that’s a very conservative estimate). If you were to fill these boxes a trillion air pillows, and then lay these boxes flat next to each other, the resulting space would take up 2,500 square miles, or enough to cover long island:

Long Island has an area of only 1,400 square miles , by the way.

Long Island has an area of only 1,400 square miles , by the way.

There will always be a need for some air pillows for any company that ships a large amount of products. And many void fill companies do pay attention to efficient, green packaging—including some that even create biodegradable air pillows. That being said, there would be a lot less places to put their products if we were to eliminate that 2,500 square mile island of empty space.

So you tell me: is oversized packaging keeping the air pillow industry afloat?

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