Perhaps the most enjoyable part of unwrapping packages is getting to pop the air bubbles in the plastic bubble wrap. Bubble wrap has helped to prevent untold damage to fragile goods since it was invented. There is no doubt about its usefulness, but as someone who is eco-conscious, you’re likely still left with the question - ‘is bubble wrap recyclable?’
This article helps you figure out what to do with bubble wrap aside from popping and trashing it.
The answer is yes, bubble wrap is recyclable, just not the same way you recycle cardboard boxes. Like other #4 plastic resin products, you cannot recycle them via your curbside recycling bin.
Bubble wrap belongs to the #4 category of plastics. It is made of low-density polyethylene (LDPE). LDPE is the same material used to make the plastic bags you get from grocery stores and dry cleaners. They also use it to make plastic film, air pillows, shopping bags, bread bags, polyethylene foam, and plastic wrap.
At least in the majority, that remains the case. Recycling can vary from country to country or by municipality, or even by the provider, so do double-check locally to you if your curbside collection takes #4 plastics. Most cities or councils will include this information on their websites.
Furthermore, for most wrapping, packaging, and shipping jobs, alternative eco-friendly packaging exists. Wherever possible, the best thing to do to reduce plastic waste is to avoid it in the first place.
You can either reuse or recycle bubble wrap, and there are many ways to do that. Below is a list of options for recycling and reusing bubble wraps.
The common perception of bubble wrap is that it is a single-use product. However, Sealed air manufactures the material to be useful more than once. Reusing bubble wrap helps in the waste reduction of packaging products. Here are some ideas for reuse
Bubble wrap has two qualities that make it ideal storage packing material: durable and waterproof. You can reuse bubble wrap as a protective storage material for fragile household items. If you are moving out, you will find bubble wraps very handy for making sure your properties arrive damage-free.
You can use bubble wrap as a cheap insulation solution. It works as excellent insulation for grocery bags, cars, homes, plants, and greenhouses. As a grocery bag insulator, It helps maintain the temperature of your food. So if you buy iced foods, you do not have to worry about them getting too warm and vice versa.
Wrapping your outdoor plants with bubble wrap during winter can prevent frost damage. During the winter, you can tape bubble wrap across the windows of your home to prevent heat loss. You can also place bubble wrap on your car windows overnight to stop frost from forming.
You can make your own packing materials from waste bubble wrap. If you own a business that requires bubble wrap packaging, you can use the bubble wraps that come with your purchases as your own packaging. This way, you eliminate the emissions and carbon footprint of producing and buying new bubble wrap sheets. You also save money.
There are various crafts that you can do to repurpose bubble wrap. You can use it to create cool art or make a sleeping mat when you go camping. It also works great as a knee pad when you have to get on your knees to do house chores or yard work.
To reuse it, the bubbles need to remain unpopped. However, if you cannot resist the urge to pop, there are recycling options available.
Bubble wrap recycling is limited as most community recycling facilities will not recycle it. This is because lightweight materials like bubble wrap, plastic straws, and plastic films clog recycling machinery and cause damage.
Bubble wrap envelopes also present a problem because facilities can't separate the plastic film material and the paper outer mechanically.
The damages to equipment cost money to fix and also slow down the recycling process. Therefore, you should not throw bubble wrap in your curbside recycling bin because it will only end up in the landfill that way. Of course, the exception is if your specific collection explicitly or the recycling center says that they do, in fact, take the material.
The proper way to recycle bubble wrap is through special recycling programs. Some grocery stores have plastic bag recycling bins. If your local store has one, you can just put the bubble wrap and bubble mailers in it.
You can use websites like Earth911, Recycle Now, and Plastic Film Recycling to search for a recycling program in your area that accepts bubble wrap. Additionally, the American Chemistry Council’s plastic film recycling program has hundreds of drop-off points across the country.
If you can not access any of the options mentioned above, do not give up. Sealed Air has a recycling program that allows consumers to return bubble wrap to the company for recycling. The company has factories in Texas, Illinois, Massachusetts, and California. Thankfully bubble wrap is lightweight, so it does not incur high shipping costs.
To recycle your bubble wraps, pop all the air bubbles before dropping them off at the collection points. Also, to recycle bubble mailers, you must separate the paper from the plastic part and recycle both appropriately.
Proper packaging does more than ensure that your items arrive unbroken and in a presentable fashion; it ensures that you can transport them safely. Bubble wrap is one of the most popular materials for product packaging and protection.
Sealed Air Corporation owns the patent for, well, sealed air. Alfred Fielding and Marc Chavannes initially invented it as textured wallpaper, but the business failed to take off.
Some years later, the material proved to be an ingenious protection solution when IBM needed to transport its IBM 1401 computers. At the time of these early computers, they were both massive and fragile. And that was the beginning of bubble wrap’s success as a packaging material.
In 2016, the global bubble wrap market was worth 6.82 billion us dollars, and the value is estimated to amount to about 10.7 billion us dollars by 20231. The growing popularity of online shopping contributes to the increased use of bubble wrap.
Even if you do your best to live a plastic-free or zero waste life, this product may still find its way into your home, not least because it is one of the top choices of packaging materials for many small and large businesses. Your mail may be delivered in bubble mailers, or you get a gift shipped to you from another country.
Plastic isn't great for the environment. Its production consumes fossil fuel, which is a nonrenewable natural resource. It is also not biodegradable and presents an environmental threat.
However, worse than plastic production is the way people dispose of it. Many people send tons of recyclable plastic waste to landfills. And each plastic bag and yard of bubble wrap that ends up in landfill waste is bad for our planet.
By recycling and reusing bubble wraps, you help slow down its production. This cuts back on production emissions and helps conserve nonrenewable resources.
The recycling system helps to keep waste out of landfills. When you recycle, you help to reduce land pollution and ocean plastic pollution. Like all plastics, if they end up in landfill or our waterways, they eventually degrade into small pieces that leach toxic chemicals.
Therefore, we're best advised to keep bubble wrap and other plastic films out of the environment at much as possible.
The recycling industry provides jobs for millions of individuals. In the United States, 1,000 tons of recycled materials create 1.17 jobs and $65.23 worth of wages2.
Recycling bubble wrap helps keep plastics from the waste stream. This reduces plastic pollution and helps cut back on global emissions. Doing your part to protect the environment can be as easy as getting crafty with bubble wrap.
If you run a business that uses bubble wrap packaging, you can set up a take-back policy. This will allow customers to return bubble wraps to you for reuse or recycling. You can also educate your customers on the proper recycling solutions.
Ian Tiseo (2021) Global bubble wrap market value 2016 & 2023. Statista
|2||EPA.gov. Recycling Economic Information (REI) Report (2016)|
Jen’s a passionate environmentalist and sustainability expert. With a science degree from Babcock University Jen loves applying her research skills to craft editorial that connects with our global changemaker and readership audiences centered around topics including zero waste, sustainability, climate change, and biodiversity.
Elsewhere Jen’s interests include the role that future technology and data have in helping us solve some of the planet’s biggest challenges.