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Active VS Passive Cold Chain Packaging: Which Do You Need?

August 16, 2022, Author: admin

A wide range of industries today rely on temperature-controlled logistics for their various operations, including pharmaceutical, life sciences and healthcare sectors, just to name a few. All businesses in these fields require expert logistics solutions and share the common goal of ensuring their transported products retain an optimal quality during transport.


To that end, choosing the right packaging system to maintain the shipment’s required temperature is a critical part of the cold chain logistics movement. Broadly, there are two main packaging systems to choose from, namely active and passive cold chain packaging. There are various key factors to consider when determining which packaging system to use . Read on to learn the differences between active and passive cold chain packaging and how to decide which is best for your shipment.


Active or Passive Packaging Containers for Cold Chain Logistics

Active containers are equipped with comprehensive temperature regulating systems that actively maintain the required product temperatures. These containers may also use dry ice as the coolant for temperature control. As a preventative measure and to ensure peace of mind, active containers come with temperature-sensitive alarms that get triggered in case of fluctuations and notify the transport crew of a potential issue.


These active container systems are typically leased and are considered to have greater security since the units can be locked and secured with security seals. They are usually not opened until the end of the shipment’s journey. Active containers are usually powered by electricity or batteries, hence, they can be plugged in and at correct storage temperature, the units can continue maintaining the proper temperature in case of customs clearance delays, flight delays, or any other unforeseen circumstances.


On the other hand, passive containers maintain a temperature-controlled environment within an insulated enclosure for a specific period without any electrical thermostatic control. This packaging type uses a predetermined quantity of pre-conditioned coolants like frozen or chilled gel packs or phase change materials (PCM) to achieve and maintain the required product temperature.


Passive containers usually use either vacuum insulated panels (VIP), polyurethane, or polystyrene. Due to the lack of active cooling capabilities, many passive containers can only hold a certain temperature for a specific time (for example, up to 96 hours) and fixed payload capacity. This makes them less costly than active containers.


Factors to consider when deciding between active and passive containers include:


  • Product space requirement
  • Shipment routing
  • Destination storage capability
  • Cost due to return logistics
  • Duration of whole shipment route


Choosing Between Active and Passive Packaging

As with any decision regarding the safe and successful transport and shipment of products, we must answer several questions to reach a proactive and strategic decision. When choosing between active and passive packaging systems, the two main aspects to consider are the shipment’s risk profile and the importance of safe, timely, and successful transport.


Shipping the product to its final destination with no temperature excursion is paramount as it is vital to maintain the product’s quality, efficacy and safety. Where possible, lane and routes should be mapped and assessed.



Active and passive packaging systems make up the two main options for temperature-controlled transportation. The difference between the two lies in their temperature control, wherein the former utilises active and complex systems to constantly maintain the shipment’s temperature. At the same time, the latter relies on pre-conditioning techniques to achieve the same effect for a limited duration.


To determine which of the two is best for your needs, contact Global Cold Chain Solutions today for reliable cold chain logistics solutions. Our team will guide you through what is the most optimal for your shipment, from its packaging and pre-shipment documentation to its transport routes.