Cargo Packaging

Best Packaging Practices for International Shipments

Cargo packaging plays a crucial role in international trade. It serves as the first line of defence for your goods during transit, protecting them from damage and ensuring that they reach their destination in the same condition as they were shipped from your supplier’s premises. 

Striking a balance between protection, cost-efficiency and Quarantine compliance is essential for businesses dealing with cargo that is being shipped internationally.

The Implications of Poor Packaging

Poor packaging within the international freight and transport sector can have far-reaching implications; poor packaging will affect the ultimate condition in which you receive your goods, and it will affect the ability of you being able to provide the goods to your customer at the time agreed – as the goods may be damaged and need to be re-ordered and re-shipped to Australia. Whenever you are required to re-do something, that is a waste of financial resources for your business.

The most direct consequence of poor packaging is the risk of damage to the goods purchased. Inadequately packaged items are more susceptible to being damaged during transit due to the need to be handled multiple times from the point of manufacture to the point of receipt. Your cargo may travel as 1) air freight, 2) sea freight Less than a Container Load (LCL) or 3) sea freight Full Container Load (FCL). In more cases than not, cargo shipped as sea freight Less than a Container Load (LCL) incurs the most cases of damage due to the amount of times the cargo is handled. Nothing is worse than an importer purchasing the goods, shipping the goods to Australia, paying the import taxes, having the customs cleared, and then receiving a notification from the sea freight depot that the cargo has been unpacked from the shipping container and noted as damaged. This notification can lead to a significant financial loss, especially if the goods have a high manufacturing turnaround time or if the goods are being highly relied upon.

Inferior packaging can also lead to business continuity delays; whenever cargo is shipped to Australia via sea, the packaging needs to meet the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF) requirements of either being 1) ISPM15 stamped, 2) being made from plywood or 3) having been treated overseas. If the packaging has not been shipped to meet one of the above three requirements, there will be a delay and subsequent cost to have the packaging inspected and disposed of or treated in Australia. These added delays will disrupt your supply chain, leading to missed deadlines, possible contract penalties and unhappy customers. Additionally, there could be increased costs to yourself for repackaging the goods at the sea freight depot; storage fees while the inspection and or repackaging is occurring can also mount up quite quickly.

Poor control over the packaging can also negatively impact the end customer’s perception of your brand. Customers receiving delayed goods due to poor packaging will be associated with your brand’s lack of care or professionalism. This could harm your brand’s reputation, customer loyalty, and bottom line.

Understanding International Packaging Regulations

Navigating the realm of international packaging regulations is crucial for businesses involved in global trade. These rules vary widely from one country or region to another; in the Australian context, the rules are determined by the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF).

Compliance with these DAFF regulations is not just about ensuring that the goods are processed quickly through the border but also about ensuring that your shipments are not profiled in the future for non-compliance. Packaged cargo that has been packed in accordance with the DAFF policies will receive less intervention from the Quarantine department. Having your cargo fast-tracked through the border allows you to sell your goods quicker and then re-order more goods for your next customer. You will have business continuity when you can provide your business with certainty. The ultimate goal of international purchasing and shipping is to provide a reliable and efficient supply chain.

Given the diversity and complexity of these Quarantine regulations, staying informed is a challenge. Businesses must invest time and resources in understanding the packaging requirements for each destination they ship to. This might involve consulting with customs agents, customs brokers, Certified Customs Specialists or their freight forwarder. 

Quarantine regulations can also change over time; in the Australian context, the rules change every year when the Brown Marmorated Stink Bug season commences. Importing businesses must, therefore, be prepared to adapt their packaging and pre-treatment strategies as necessary, which will ultimately increase costs.

Material Considerations

The choice of packing materials is a fundamental aspect of shipping goods internationally; some goods are shipped on plastic pallets, steel pallets, and timber pallets, and others are not shipped on any pallets. It is not permissible in Australia to pack any goods within straw, peat, hay, chaff or used fruit and vegetable cartons.

Different materials offer varying levels of protection. For instance, lightweight and low-cost cardboard may not protect heavy or fragile items like wood or certain plastics. Therefore, the choice of material should be aligned with the nature of the goods being shipped. It is also important to remember that when you ship goods as sea freight Less than a Container Load (LCL), your cargo will be sharing space with many other importers’ cargo. Cargo will surround your cargo on all sides and be placed on top of your cargo. The packaging that you and your supplier rely upon needs to be able to withstand cargo placed on top of your cargo for a duration of weeks or even months. 

With a global interest in sustainability, your packaging may need to align with your business ethics and customer expectations. There is an expectation that businesses will rely upon recyclable or biodegradable materials wherever possible. Materials such as cardboard and certain types of plastics can be recycled; this reduces waste and promotes sustainability.

The weight and volume of the outside packaging will directly affect your shipping costs as freight costs [in sea freight LCL] are based upon the cubic measurements [m3] of the packaged cargo [L x W x H]. 

Best Practices

Adhering to best practices when packaging international cargo can enhance the safety and efficiency of your cargo during the shipping process. Protective internal packaging materials like bubble wrap or air-filled bags can cushion the goods during transit, reducing the risks of damage due to shocks or vibrations.

The external packaging should be sturdy enough to withstand the rigours of sea transit. This might involve using double-walled boxes for heavy items, utilising pallets for large shipments and even shrink-wrapping items together for stability.

Proper sealing ensures the contents remain secure within the package, while clear and accurate labelling aids in easy identification and handling of the packages at both the point of departure and the point of receipt. Labels should include information such as the receiver’s name and the number of packages, say package 1 of 10, alongside handling instructions. Safety Data Sheets [SDS] and dangerous goods markings will be required if you ship dangerous goods. 

Packages should be weatherproofed to protect against the environmental elements; this could involve waterproof materials, liners or sealing seams with weather-resistant tape.

Some items, such as fragile, hazardous or perishable goods, require special packaging considerations. Businesses should familiarise their suppliers and themselves with industry best practice methods when shipping these types of goods.

Technology and Packaging

Whenever international traders are shipping goods internationally that are required to be temperature controlled, they need to seek a shipping company that provides the monitoring required to keep the refrigerated cargo from spoiling. 

Perishable cargo would be shipped as Full Container Loads [FCL’s] in a refrigerated container (a reefer). The refrigeration panel would be set to the temperature required during the voyage. 

Importers can also implement other technological monitoring controls on their goods, such as QR codes, NFC (Near Field Communication) tags or RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) chips, providing information about the product authenticity, temperature changes or handling incidents.

Advanced tracking systems provide real-time visibility of a shipment’s status. GPS tracking allows businesses to monitor the exact location of their goods while in transit. IoT (Internet of Things) devices can provide data on the environmental conditions within the package, such as temperature or humidity, which is particularly useful for sensitive goods like pharmaceuticals or perishable food items.


Thoughtful, forward-thinking and compliant packaging is an investment that can enhance an international business’s efficiency, improve customer satisfaction, and boost a brand’s reputation. Businesses can ensure successful and efficient supply chains by viewing packaging as an integral part of their brand and customer experience journey.

Platinum® is here to assist you with your cargo needs. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact us today.