A Comprehensive Guide to Box Inserts Materials: A List of Sustainable Options

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Box inserts are often overlooked in the overall product packaging design. Admittedly, some products render these inserts unnecessary. However, if you consider the role that it plays in the presentation and protection of a product, you’ll seriously consider using one.

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Last Updated on September 27, 2023 by Packoi Team

In this article, you’ll discover the truth about custom packaging inserts and how you can create a sustainable insert for your brand. This guide will provide tips on the specific materials that you can use and how you can combine them with your packaging strategy to create a powerful marketing tool.

What are Box Inserts?

As a packaging material, box inserts are extremely underrated. Businesses fail to realize the crucial role that it plays in the functionality of product packaging. Even if your product fits snugly in the box, it’s still prone to damage, especially during delivery and transit.

The use of custom inserts shouldn’t be taken as an afterthought. Not only that, but you also should stop looking at it as a wasteful part of the packaging.

When done right, it can improve the unboxing experience of your customer – which in turn will elevate their perception of your brand.

The result is a stronger customer base and revenue growth.

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Double-Edged Appeal of Box Inserts

While packaging inserts help with customer satisfaction and are extremely helpful in protecting a product, there are still some things that should make you use it with caution.

First of all, it can cost you more. To be effective, these inserts have to be custom-made for your products. If your product line consists of different sizes and shapes, you’ll have to create a different insert for each.

Not only is it product-specific, it’s prone to being wasteful especially if you don’t implement it the right way.

The good news is, that you can keep your product packaging inserts from being wasteful by choosing only sustainable materials to create them.

7 Types of Sustainable Materials for Custom Packaging Inserts

According to several studies, the packaging material plays a crucial role in influencing the buying decisions of a customer. In one study, it was revealed that 67% of customers admitted that the packaging material influenced their decision to buy. At the same time, 67% of the survey respondents also said that they think that paper and cardboard are more attractive than other packaging materials.

What does this mean? By using sustainable materials, you can effectively increase customer satisfaction and in effect, your monthly sales.

This is why you should only use sustainable materials for your packaging inserts. Fortunately, you have a lot of options to choose from.

1. Cardboard Inserts

When it comes to sustainability, the go-to packaging material is usually corrugated cardboard. It’s a paper-based material that comes from a renewable source – trees.

What’s great about corrugated cardboard material is it’s very durable. This material has at least 2 layers, one flat and one fluted cardboard (looks like waves). Most packaging uses the 3-layered corrugated material where a fluted cardboard is sandwiched between 2 flat ones.

The thickness of the material protects the product and the fluted material buffers any impact. This is why it’s a very effective material to use – even for box inserts.

Corrugated inserts are also quite flexible and versatile – allowing you to design them to fit your products well.

custom Cardboard Inserts

2. Paperboard Inserts

The name itself proves that this is another sustainable material that you can use to create box inserts. While paperboard inserts aren’t as thick as corrugated inserts, you can still rely on these to improve the product presentation in your packaging.

These non-corrugated cardboard inserts provide an eco-friendly alternative for products that don’t require thicker protection. Because it’s thinner, this won’t add a lot of weight to the overall packaging.

Like corrugated cardboard, this material allows design flexibility and versatility. It can accommodate any product shape.

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3. Molded Pulp Inserts

Most molded pulp inserts are made of recycled paper and cardboard. This makes them a popular option as a sustainable material for custom packaging inserts. The recycled paper is either dry-pressed or wet-pressed as it is processed. It’s then shaped into a new form to be used as packaging inserts.

What makes pulp packaging inserts great is the fact that you can have them formed in the exact dimensions needed by your product. This will make your products a perfect fit for the molded pulp inserts.

Since these are made of recycled materials, molded pulp inserts are both biodegradable and compostable – which is a good thing for the eco-friendly image that you’re trying to build for your brand

Molded Pulp Inserts

4. Rigid Chipboard Inserts

If you want to use something stronger than corrugated material, this is the right option for you. Rigid chipboard inserts use reinforced cardboard material. This makes it ideal for heavier products that require a firm and durable material to protect it. This also gives your packaging a premium look – making your product packaging luxurious.

While there are rigid cardboard inserts made from new pulp, you can look for suppliers that use recycled materials. Just be specific with your search so you can keep your options sustainable. This also means your inserts are considered recyclable materials themselves.

Since rigid inserts look luxurious, you may want to label the box properly to state that you used recycled materials for it. That would satisfy the curiosity of your eco-conscious customers.

5. Plastic Inserts

Using plastic inserts might not seem like a good choice for sustainable packaging. But if you get it from the right source, you can stick to your eco-friendly initiative.

You see, there are bio-based plastic materials that can be molded into custom inserts. These are made of organic materials that can be recycled as well.

What makes this insert ideal for your product is the fact that it’s quite versatile. Depending on how much protection your product requires, you can make it thick or thin. Regardless of the thickness, it’s sturdy and extremely durable. You can trust that it’ll provide complete protection without making your packaging too heavy.

6. Mushroom Inserts

Mushroom Inserts

If you’ve been trying to convert your business into a sustainable one, you’ve probably encountered this material already. Just like molded inserts, these mushroom-based materials are eco-friendly options that you can choose from.

This innovative packaging insert material is a combination of mycelium and agricultural waste. Mushroom roots are grown and bound together using hemp hurds. It’s compostable and can be molded into a presentable packaging insert.

The drawback of this insert is there are only a few suppliers to offer it. So you might want to specify this as your preference when you’re looking for a packaging supplier.

7. Foam Inserts

Finally, you have foam inserts as an option for your custom box insert. This was saved for last because it’s the most popular option for packaging inserts. The product form is embedded into the foam to give it a snug fit. It’s also considered to be very sustainable because it can be produced with minimal energy and zero toxic chemicals. 

Foam Inserts

There are 3 types of foam inserts.

  • PU foam inserts are made of polyurethane. It’s an affordable material that requires minimal energy to produce. It’s great for products that require thermal insulation.
  • EPE foam inserts are made of polyethylene. It’s a more sustainable material because it’s completely reusable and recyclable. But be cautious because it’s considered a class 4 material – which is flammable and in need of proper labeling.
  • EVA foam inserts are admittedly not biodegradable as the other two options. But they can still be sustainable because they are recyclable. Recently, there have been companies that have made innovative measures to produce EVA foam made of sugarcane, which is a more eco-friendly alternative.
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Different Design Structures for Box Inserts

Now that you know more about the sustainable materials that you can choose from, it’s time to look at the different design structures of packaging inserts.

Get to know the options so you can choose the one that can protect your product the best. The design plays a role in the way the inserts can provide protection – so choosing the right one is a must.

Here are the packaging insert ideas that you can look into.

Molded Trays

Imagine pressing your hand into the sand. When you lift your hand, an imprint will be left on the sand’s surface. That’s what a molded tray would look like. These custom packaging inserts are characterized by matching the exact contour of your product.

You can use plastic or foam inserts to apply this design.

How It's Made Moulded Pulp Containers

Molded trays are perfect for products that need a snug fit so they don’t get jostled while being delivered. These include delicate, fragile, and intricate products. It’s also great for electronic devices or glass products.

Cavity Trays

These packaging inserts look like trays with holes in them that fit the size of a product. This is a great option if you’re putting multiple products in one box. It keeps the items from mixing.

This is unlike the foam inserts where the contour of the product is molded into the tray. It only has a hole in it that’s big enough to insert a portion of the product so it doesn’t move. Probably a great material to use for this is cardboard inserts.

Cavity Trays

For instance, you have a skincare brand and you want to sell an assortment of products like lotions, hand wash, bath foam, etc. You can have a tray cut out to the exact diameter of the bottles or tubes so they can be placed vertically in the box. 

Die-Cut Inserts

This is quite similar to the cavity trays but instead of positioning the products vertically, the cut-out will be based on the outline of the product. That way, they lay flat while in the box.

These custom box inserts are great for bottles and other fragile items. While bottles can be delivered in a vertical position, they’ll need more support than what a cavity tray can provide. With the die-cut packaging inserts crafted to the precise outline of the product, it can provide more support thus lowering the chances of damage.

This is also ideal for presentation purposes. It’ll make the inside of the box look clean and elegantly presented. This will increase customer satisfaction.

Packaging Dividers

These custom box inserts are flat pieces of cardboard that are interlocked with each other to form a divider. The number of cardboard will depend on how many products will be placed in a box. 2 pieces of cardboard would give you 4 spaces. 4 pieces would give you 9 spaces.

This packaging insert will allow you to present products in an organized manner while making sure they won’t collide or entangle with each other while in transit.

Packaging Dividers

Multi-Level Inserts

If you need to put more products in one box, you’re better off using multi-level inserts as your option. These packaging inserts can be stacked on top of each other to give more space for products to be shipped out.

To make this work, every level of insert should have a tray underneath. That way, the products on top won’t fall to the bottom and make a mess of your organized presentation.

This type of insert is great for shipping different products that come in packages or items that customers usually buy in bulk.

Multi-Level Inserts

Accordion Inserts

These are like custom inserts that can be moved to accommodate different product shapes and sizes. It’s ideal for brands that ship out different combinations of their product line. It’s a cost-efficient way to use inserts because you don’t have to create one for each combination of products.

Accordion inserts allow you to expand the design to accommodate the specific products that you plan to send. Regardless of how many combinations you have, the products will have a snug fit and will be secure inside the box.

Fabric Inserts

These custom packaging inserts are characterized by the fabric covering on their surface. It could be velvet or satin. The mold or recessed part of the insert is still there, but it’ll be covered by fabric.

This is a great option for luxurious brands. It elevates the value of the product by being nestled on soft premium fabric.

Fabric Inserts for jewelry

It’s also ideal for delicate products like glass figurines, watches, pieces of jewelry, etc. The softness of the fabric ensures that no scratches will land on the product.

This is a great way to impress your customers and show them the high value of your products.

Why It’s Important to Choose Sustainable Custom Box Inserts

Today’s global climate has made it a must to comply with the social responsibility of caring for the environment. Not only is it expected by local authorities, but it’s also something that customers want. Using sustainable packaging inserts is a way to help the environment and make sure we don’t add to the damage that we’ve already done.

The good news is that it’s often more practical to choose the sustainable option. For instance, using corrugated inserts is more cost-efficient and leaves more room for customization. That means going the most sustainable way will also benefit your company and brand value.

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Here are 6 reasons why this is worth the effort.

1. Meets Consumer Expectations

As mentioned, customers expect companies to be more eco-friendly in their ways. Different studies and surveys have revealed that customers are willing to support companies who are more eco-friendly with their ways.

Even if you’ve made your box eco-friendly, make sure you do the complete package. Include the packaging insert as well. You can even use the same material that you used for the box.

This won’t just make your inserts sustainable, it’ll also help you align your packaging with each other. It’ll also strengthen customer loyalty because your market approves of your eco-friendly practices.

2. Reduces Carbon Footprint

By using the right materials, you can have a direct impact on the environment. You can lower the carbon footprint of your business. Since sustainable materials are sourced from renewable resources. This means the raw materials can be used without a significant impact on the environment.

Sustainable packaging inserts

Sustainable packaging inserts are processed with minimal energy consumption and without toxic chemicals. At least, it would be less compared to non-biodegradable alternatives.

3. Adheres to Regulations

By sticking to the use of corrugated inserts and other sustainable materials, you are complying with the rules and regulations of environmental authorities. As time goes on, more governments and agencies are being vocal about the need to practice sustainability.

If you choose a sustainable packaging insert, you comply with these stringent regulations. This would open more doors for your brand and products because you’re demonstrating corporate responsibility. In case you want to venture into new territory, you won’t have to worry about non-compliance with the local environmental rules. You’re already proactive in practicing sustainability.

4. Elevates the Brand Reputation

Apart from being compliant, choosing sustainable box inserts would also influence how customers see your brand. Since people are more eco-conscious now, they’ll want to support companies that practice sustainability. In effect, it’ll be easier for you to win them over and strengthen customer loyalty. 

customer loyalty

The sustainable packaging inserts will also promote your business as an environmentally friendly and forward-thinking brand. Your customers will be proud to be associated with you because they know that you’re one of the companies that care for the planet. That would make them more vocal about choosing your products over your competitors.

5. Lowers the Packaging Cost

Some people may think that eco-friendly options are more expensive than the traditional materials used for custom box inserts. That’s not true. The initial cost may vary depending on the material that you’ve chosen. But sustainable materials have been proven to be more cost-effective – specifically, if you consider the environmental implications in the long run.

The use of cardboard, for instance, using EVA foam inserts allows multiple uses for companies who ship their products to different stores and locations. If you use recycled materials, that can reduce waste. It’ll also contribute to the lowering of the overall packaging cost for your brand.

6. Supports the Circular Economy

The idea behind a circular economy is to reduce waste, reuse materials, and recycle them. This is something that you can support if you use recyclable packaging inserts. For instance, instead of using a flimsy plastic tray that will be discarded after one use, you can use corrugated inserts that can be deposited in recycling bins. These can then be sent to recycling facilities to be turned into new material.

eco-friendly packaging

Or you can use EVA foam because as mentioned, these are durable enough to be reused. As you can see, it doesn’t take much to support the circular economy. You only have to choose the right material that you’ll be making a difference in the environment.

7 Steps to Choose the Right Materials for Your Box Inserts

When choosing the materials for your custom inserts, it’s essential to consider which one would perform best in terms of functionality, cost-efficiency, and sustainability.

To make sure you’re choosing the right one, here are the important steps that you should follow.

1. Consider the Exact Product Requirements

The first thing that you have to do is to look at the product requirements to create the right packaging inserts. To be specific, you need to look at the shape, weight, and level of protection that the product needs.

As you know, box inserts are custom-made for your products. If you use foam or molded trays, you can’t just use it on another product unless they have the same shape and size. It also has to be able to hold the weight of the product.

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2. Research Sustainable Options

Once you understand the requirements of your product, it’s time to choose the sustainable alternatives that you can use.

Earlier in this article, you’ve seen the list of available box inserts. Over time, this list will grow and you’ll have more options to consider. The important thing is to take your time to look at the qualities of each material. Corrugated inserts, for instance, are a durable, sustainable, and cost-effective option. Plastic inserts are controversial but with the right labeling, you can inform your customers that you’ve sourced a bio-based plastic to use.

sustainable packaging

3. Evaluate the Durability of Materials

After listing your sustainable options, make sure they are durable. You have to consider the weight of the product. If it’s on the heavy side, it requires a sturdy material that won’t sag under its weight. At the same time, you also want to consider what the product is made of. If it’s fragile, then it requires an extra level of protection. Jewelry, for instance, would benefit from a fabric insert.

4. Customize According to the Product Shape

To provide complete protection, the packaging inserts should be molded to fit the shape of your product. For some products, using die-cut or cavity trays would suffice.

Others would require product packaging inserts that are cut into the actual shape of the product. Go back to what your product needs so you can see which material and structure are best for your packaging inserts.

Customize insert

5. Pick a Visually Appealing Design

Creating successful product packaging is not just about being functional. You want to blow away your customers by the visual appeal of the overall packaging. That includes the box inserts because it contributes to the unboxing experience. If you can succeed in providing a great unboxing journey, your customer would want to repeat the experience and that’ll result in more sales.

mailer boxes can also use inserts to improve the unboxing experience.

6. Maximize the Box Insert’s Functionality

As you think about the need to meet the product requirements, sustainability, and visual appeal, don’t forget about functionality. You want the material of your custom inserts to support the product so it enhances and elevates its value.

7. Calculate the Cost

The next step that you have to take is to calculate the cost of using the sustainable material. If it costs a lot, you might want to look for a cheaper eco-friendly alternative. There are various options out there for your custom inserts. You just have to be diligent in looking for the one that fits your needs and your budget.

calculate your cost

Talk to your packaging supplier to get more ideas about your options.

Let’s Create the Perfect Box Inserts for Your Product. Packoi Printing Is Here to Help.

Creating the perfect custom inserts for your product packaging shouldn’t be a complicated task. If you are aware of your options and the type of box insert structure that your product needs, it won’t be difficult to complete your custom packaging. You’ll be able to find the right combination that won’t just protect your product but also elevate your brand’s value.

If you need assistance in getting information about packaging inserts, Packoi Printing has the expertise to help. We also have a team of designers that can help you align your inserts with the rest of your product packaging.

Email us, so we can talk about it. We’ll get back to you with a quotation in no time.

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Hey there, I’m Shelly!

I really enjoy the packaging and printing industry because my work makes my clients’ products more beautiful and enjoyable. If you have any questions about packaging and printing, feel free to contact me!

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