A Brief Guide to Chemical Packaging

Lucy Bell-Young

by Lucy Bell-Young

16th December 2020

Complying with the proper rules and regulations for chemical packaging is crucial to ensure that chemicals are stored correctly, avoid degradation, and can be disposed of safely. Still, it can be easy to get inundated with information about this important area, which is why we’ve put together a brief guide to help you with all your chemical packaging questions.

To get started, packaging for chemicals is generally split into one of two categories: UN Approved Packaging and non-UN Approved Packaging.

Chemical storage warehouse

UN Approved Packaging

UN approved packaging means that the packaging complies with and is certified to UN standards. This is specifically relevant if you’re involved in the trade and transport of dangerous goods. In these cases, chemical packaging must undergo practical transport tests, such as being dropped or placed under a lot of pressure.

Additionally, UN approved chemical packaging must include the correct identifying labels and be able to appropriately store the product inside. For example, if you’re transporting hazardous materials like acid, you should use glass packaging because it’s inert and non-porous.

UN packaging can be split into three further categories:

  • UN X – suitable for Packing Group 1 and lower
  • UN Y – suitable for Packing Group 2  and lower
  • UN Z – suitable for Packing Group 3 only


According to UN standards, hazardous substances are allocated according to Packing Groups, of which there are three:

  • Packing Group 1 for high-danger materials
  • Packing Group 2 for materials posing medium danger
  • Packing Group 3 for low-danger materials

The packaging that can be used for any of these materials must have first been tested to the relevant Packing Group in order to show compliance. UN X packaging, for example, has been tested with high-danger materials, making it suitable for Packing Group 1 substances. Because it has been tested to the highest degree of danger, UN X packaging can also be used for Packaging Groups 2 and 3.

UN Y packaging, on the other hand, will only have been tested to withstand medium levels of danger, so while it can be used for Packing Group 2 and lower, it’s illegal to use UN Y packaging for Packing Group 1 substances. It works the same way for UN Z: this packaging has only been tested with low-danger materials, and so can only be used for Packing Group 3.

Storage of barrels in a chemical factory
UN approved packaging must be used in the transportation of dangerous goods

Non-UN Approved Packaging

When it comes to non-hazardous substances, these are fine to store and transport in non-UN approved packaging.  This is because there isn’t any risk posed to human or environment health and safety if the packaging experiences trauma and, for example, spills.

Examples of non-hazardous substances that doesn’t require UN approved packaging are Buffer Solutions. An example of a material which must be transported in UN Packaging would be Sulphuric Acid, which would need to undergo tests to ensure its packaging is safe for transport.

Hazardous Materials Packaging

Manufacturers and distributors of hazardous materials are responsible for ensuring that their packaging includes the correct hazard communications, like labels and shipping documentation. Here are some of the steps you should take:

  • Use the product’s SDS to get the correct transportation hazard classification for the product, as well as its:
    • Four-digit ID number
    • Proper shipping name
    • Hazard class
    • Packing group
  • Use this information to identify your product on the Hazardous Materials Table, which will provide useful information regarding:
    • Appropriate packaging
    • Quantity limitations
    • Special provisions or exceptions
  • Once you’ve determined quantities and selected your packaging, you must mark and label your product appropriately with:
    • Hazard class labels
    • Identification number
    • Shipper’s information
    • Proper shipping name markings
    • Orientation arrows
  • You may also have to prepare a shipping paper that details what the hazardous material is and its UN identification number, as well as:
    • Hazard class
    • Packing group
    • Emergency contact information
    • The type of packaging and how many packages there are
    • Shipper’s certification

Hazardous materials can include anything that endangers human or environmental health and safety. Examples of hazmats include radioactive materials, compressed gases, acids, alkali metals, lithium batteries and many, many more. The type of material used for hazardous materials packaging will vary depending on the product.

Hazardous labels for transportation of dangerous goods
Packaging for hazardous materials must include the relevant hazard labels outlined by the GHS

In fact, there are many chemical packaging options for hazardous and non-hazardous materials alike. Here are some of the most commonplace packaging materials used in the chemical industry:

Glass Bottle Packaging

Glass bottles can be made entirely out of glass or they can be plastic-coated. Plastic-coated glass bottles are particularly useful because they’re more durable than regular glass packaging, making them more likely to contain the contents of a bottle even if it’s smashed after an accidental drop. Glass packaging also has a lot of safety benefits because it’s inert and non-porous, making it popular for hazardous substances.

Metal Drums Packaging

Substances with a low flash point, i.e. the lowest temperature a product’s vapours will ignite at, are normally packaged in metal drums. This is so that they can be ‘earthed’ when the drum is being filled or emptied. Doing this reduces the chances of static charge, which is important because even a small amount of static can cause substances with low flash points, like acetone, to ignite.

Lacquer-Lined Drums

Some drums have a lacquer lining to stop them from rusting, which is particularly crucial if they’re being used to store a material that contains water, like many solvents. Even in small quantities (<1%), water will eventually cause a metal to rust over time, so safeguarding metal drums from this is important when packaging water-based products.

200L Drums Packaging

200L drums are perfect for transporting bulk materials, and they also come with a range of material options: they can be plastic or metal, depending on the substance being packaged, and they can also be UN approved or non-UN approved, depending on whether they’re being used to transport a hazardous material or not.

Bulk Containers Packaging

Intermediate Bulk Containers (IBCs) are most commonly found in 1,000L sizes, though they can also be found in 640L and 400L sizes. This type of packaging is made from highly durable plastic, usually high-density polyethylene (HDPE), and its outer cage is also made from galvanized tubular steel or iron. They can also transport more materials in the same footprint than cylindical containers.

Stack of white plastic IBCs outside
IBCs are made from HDPE and have a steel or iron cage for extra durability

There’s a lot more to chemical packaging than most people realise, and this article only scratches the surface on the many different variations.


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.