The Efficacy of Common Packaging Materials

4.7 based on 6 ratings

Updated on Jan 08, 2013

Grade Level
Middle/High school
Difficulty of Project

The higher price tag on this project is mitigated by the fun you will have trying to break things in the most creative way possible. That said:

Small shipping boxes: $33 + (ironically enough) shipping.
Bubble Wrap: $20 + shipping
Packing Peanuts: $27
Newspaper: Approx. $5

Wine glasses(36):Find them at a dollar store, Walgreens, Target, or Meijer.

TOTAL: $175 +shipping

Safety Issues

Broken glass is dangerous. Handle it carefully.

Material Availability

Please see the Cost section- they are not necessarily easy to get, but the investment might be worth it.

Approximate Time Required to Complete the Project

This may take a bit longer than most - plan for a few evenings for set-up and a couple of weekends for executing the project. All total: 3-4 weeks.

The project is simply testing the efficacy of common packing materials on breakability.

The goals are to establish a ‘breakability index’ – basically to assess how much damage is done to fragile objects in different circumstances. Once this is done, the damage incurred in different ‘shipping’ situations --perhaps falling off a truck, or simply rough handling-- will be measured as it applies to champagne flutes. Three separate packing materials will be tested.

  • Small shipping boxes
  • Bubble wrap
  • Packing peanuts
  • Newspaper
  • Wine glasses

Anything that cannot be found at a typical pharmacy can be ordered online. Please see the bilbliography/links section for ordering materials online.

In today’s era of Ebay, craigslist, and internet shopping, sending products carefully and in an ecologically sound manner has become a primary concern. While this project doesn’t directly address the ecological concerns directly, this can still be a consideration when paired with the effectiveness of packaging materials.

This is fundamentally an Engineering question: what type of materials are best suited to different impact situations? Which will cushion the blow and maintain the integrity of the contents best?

Research Questions
  • What are common packaging materials made of?
  • How does geometry affect structural integrity?
  • What are common ‘impact’ situations when shipping products?
  • How do products get shipped across the country or overseas?
  • What are the densities of various packaging materials, and how does that affect cost?
  • What are the ecological impacts of various packaging materials on the environment?
Terms, Concepts and Questions to Start Background Research

Shipping, impact, damage index, geometry, Styrofoam, CFC’s, environmental impact, recycling.

  1. First, you will need to design your own ‘breakability index”: assign a numerical value to how much damage was done to the champagne flutes. You could do this in a number of ways: how many pieces the glass was broken into, how much of the glass remains intact, etc. The project allows for 9 extra glasses to break ahead of time to help you determine your index. It is suggested you make a ‘damage scorecard’ with a scale of 0-10, 0 being no damage and 10 being maximum damage.
  2. Outside of the 9 ‘index’ glasses, you have 27 remaining.
  3. Select three ‘impact situations’- perhaps thrown out of a moving vehicle, dropped from a second story window- whatever you like. Be creative.
  4. For each impact situation, you will use 3 glasses in three boxes for all three packaging materials. It is handy to think of this as a rule of 3s “3-3-3”.
  5. Package 3 glasses in foam pellets, three in newspaper, and three in bubble wrap, and seal your boxes shut with packaging tape.
  6. Take these 9 boxes and subject them to an impact situation.
  7. CAREFULLY (Use gloves!) open the boxes and assess the damage, using the ‘damage index that you designed.
  8. Average the damage impact scores: for example, if the three bubble wrap glasses had damage scores of 0, 2, and 4, the average damage for bubble wrap would be 2.
  9. Repeat the procedure for the remaining 2 impact situations.
  10. Graph your data, and don’t forget to take pictures for your science fair board!

It is always a good idea to photo-document the process of your experiment for your science fair board! It may also be wise to explain how you assessed damage- a printout of your ‘damage index’ would be a great way to explain to your audience how you designed the experiment.

Small shipping boxes( 4”x4”x8”)can be found here
Bubble Wrap can be found here:
Packing peanuts:
A better way to get all these packaging materials:

Shumit DasGupta has worked for OSHA, UMBS, and Pfizer as a contract researcher, is a ten year veteran in science education, and has taught students in the International Baccalaureate program in both Chicago and San Francisco. Four of his students have made it to states, and one to nationals- the year it was held in Hawaii- and he was sad he couldn't chaperon. He also loves snorkeling.

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