A Guide to Chemical Packaging

Simon Tasker

by Simon Tasker

24th February 2012


Packaging for chemicals is generally split into one of two categories:

  • UN Approved Packaging
  • Non-UN Approved Packaging

UN packaging can be split into two further categories:

  • UN X – suitable for Packing Group 1 and lower
  • UN Y – suitable for Packing Group 2  and lower

Hazard substances are allocated Packing Groups.  These are simply numbers beginning at Packing Group 1 (for the most hazardous substances) then 2 and 3 and so on.  It is legal to use UN X packaging for Packing Group 2 substances, however, it is not legal to use UN Y packaging for Packing Group 1 substances.  You can find more information on the Department for Transport website regarding chemical packaging.

Non-Hazardous Substances are fine to store and transport in Non-UN Packaging.  One example of this might be Buffer Solutions.  An example of a material which must be transported in UN Packaging would be Sulphuric Acid.

There are many variations when it comes to packaging.  Plastic, glass and metal are all commonplace in our industry.  Here are some further examples:

Glass Bottles – these can be made entirely out of glass or they can be Plastic-Coated.  Plastic-Coated Glass Bottles are more likely to contain the contents of a bottle even if it is smashed (for example, when accidentally dropped). The safety benefits mean these are popular with hazardous substances.  They are quite effective too – we know this because test them periodically.

Metal Drums – Substances with a low flash point are normally packaged in metal drums.  This is so they can be ‘earthed’ when the drum is being filled or emptied.  Why would we do this?  To reduce the chances of static charge.  Even a small amount of static can cause substances to ignite.  Acetone is an example of a product with a very low flash point.

Lacquer-Lined Drums – Some drums have a lacquer lining to stop them rusting if they are being used to store a material which contains water.  Some solvents contain water.  Even in small quantities (<1%) water will eventually cause a metal to rust over time.

200L Drums – Strictly speaking, 200L drums are actually 205L.  They are this size because the traditional size of drums used to transport oil were 45 Gallons (Imperial Gallons).  These can be Plastic or Metal and/or UN approved or Non-UN approved.

Intermediate Bulk Containers – Intermediate Bulk Containers (or IBC’s as they are more commonly known) are most commonly found in 1,000L sizes.  Again, there can also be a lot of variety when it comes to IBC’s – they are normally 1,000L but are often found in 640L and 400L containers.

There is a lot more to chemical packaging than most people realise and this blog post only scratches the surface on the many different variations – we will post more information in due course on specific types of chemical packaging in more detail.


All content published on the ReAgent.ie blog is for information only. The blog, its authors, and affiliates cannot be held responsible for any accident, injury or damage caused in part or directly from using the information provided. Additionally, we do not recommend using any chemical without reading the Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS), which can be obtained from the manufacturer. You should also follow any safety advice and precautions listed on the product label. If you have health and safety related questions, visit HSE.gov.uk.

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