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Thinking of reusing an old box for the delivery of your goods? Be sure to avoid delivery complications—don't use boxes with hazard labels. It’s not uncommon for a package to run afoul of customs for labels that supply erroneous information for your current consignment.

It’s easy to view pre-existing labels on a box as so much white noise, especially when we don’t always know what they mean. But the reality is that these labels do serve a purpose, and they can cause confusion when couriers and customs can’t be sure which labels are actually relevant to the contents of your parcel.

Here are some examples of the labels you need to watch out for:


Hazard warning labels are typically diamond-shaped pictograms that contain different colours, numbers and symbols depending on the specifics of the box’s (original) contents.

Worldwide, these pictograms usually refer to the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals (GHS). Europe uses the Classification, Labelling and Packaging (CLP) system, as well as ADR, an abbreviation that comes from the French for “the European Agreement concerning the International Carriage of Dangerous Goods by Road”.

There are overlaps and differences between these systems, but you don’t need to know the specifics if you’re looking for them—they should be fairly easy to identify.

You may also come across outdated CHIP labels—orange squares with a black border, containing images. These are obsolete, replaced by CLP, but it’s best to avoid them just in case. The same goes for the yellow triangles historically used by Germany.

Other countries outside the EU may use their own hazard symbols, but they should all be obvious enough to spot.

UN numbers

UN numbers function similarly to pictograms, but an identification number is used in lieu of (or in addition to) an image. The number specifies a class and subdivision of hazardous material that can be identified using a classification table.

North America uses NA or DOT numbers, which are identical. You can identify all of these as white or blank diamonds containing a four-digit number—unless they have been incorporated into a pictogram, in which case, see above!

Boxes with hazard labels should not be re-used. Your package may be stopped and held, even if you have attempted to cover them up.


Don’t forget, you can always go with new! Purchase heavy-duty cardboard boxes, bespoke crates, accessories and printing supplies from our packaging shop.

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