Bubble wrap is a form of entertainment as much as it is a packing material. Who didn’t love listening to the satisfying “pop” of those bubbles over and over again as a kid (or even now)?
Once you are done playing with your bubble wrap, you might be wondering how to recycle it. Even though bubble wrap is made of a common type of plastic, finding a place that takes it can be tricky. If you cannot find a recycling center
in your community, there is some good news: bubble wrap is extremely reusable, and not just as a way to keep your kids busy on a rainy day.
What is bubble wrap?
The term “bubble wrap” is actually a registered trademark of the Sealed Air Corporation. “Air cellular cushioning material” is the generic name for the product we know as bubble wrap.
Bubble wrap is made with a particular grade of polyethylene plastic known as “film” in the recycling industry. It is made by laying sheets of plastic on top of each other, forcing air into them to create the bubbles, and heating the sheets to fuse them together.
Like so many great things, bubble wrap actually came about by accident. Engineers Alfred Fielding and Marc Chavannes were trying to invent textured plastic wallpaper in 1957. What they ended up with made terrible wallpaper, so they tried to sell it as greenhouse insulation. That did not work either. Finally, the pair decided to market it as packing material. IBM was looking for something to wrap around delicate electronic equipment before shipping it through the mail, and bubble wrap worked perfectly. Fielding and Chavannes founded the Sealed Air Corporation to manufacture the product, then put on their inventor hats again. Today, the company sells all types of packing and mailing materials.
Why should I recycle bubble wrap?
The obvious answer is that plastic is not biodegradable, so it will sit in landfills forever. But, there are many other reasons to keep it out of your garbage can. Plastic is a petroleum product, so recycling it cuts down on petroleum use. If bubble wrap happens to make it into an incinerator, it will release toxic chemicals found in plastic, including dioxins
, which are extremely harmful to human health. Bubble wrap is very easy to reuse, and reusing it can save you money the next time you need to ship something fragile or wrap something for safe keeping.
In addition, bubble wrap and other types of film plastic are a real nuisance in the waste stream. The wind catches it easily, so it has a tendency to escape trashcans or piles and create litter on highways and in transfer stations. It can also get caught in recycling machinery, forcing staff to shut down their equipment and yank it out by hand. Keeping film plastic out of the waste stream is a big help for both the environment and recycling companies.
How do I recycle bubble wrap?
In most case, bubble wrap can be recycled with other types of film
, including plastic grocery bags, bread bags, dry-cleaning bags and the small bags that protect your newspaper from the elements. That is not always the case, however, so make sure you understand the guidelines for your local program.
Curbside programs that accept this type of plastic are few and far between. Sonoma County, CA, is a rare example, and it has very specific guidelines for how bubble wrap and other types of film should be prepared for recycling. All the material must be put inside one clear plastic bag and tied at the top to prevent individual items from escaping.
You are much more likely to find a film recycling program at local retailers. Rhode Island has a very comprehensive program
for grocery stores, pharmacies and other retail outlets to put out bright blue collection boxes at their locations.
Another possibility is your local recycling center. Most government-run recycling centers in the Minneapolis
area take film plastic. So does the one in Jackson, WY
How to reuse bubble wrap
The most obvious way to reuse bubble wrap is as a packing material. Use it to wrap valuables set to go in the mail or during a move.
Stores such as the UPS Store and Pak Mail sometimes accept bubble wrap. Check with locations in your community to see what their policy is. The only downside here: They may not take bubble wrap if you could not resist popping the bubbles.
Halloween costumes made from bubble wrap are also very popular. Many companies make bubble wrap suits you can buy new. Martha Stewart incorporates bubble wrap into a homemade jellyfish costume
People have come up with all kinds of inventive ways to reuse bubble wrap in craft projects, most of them geared toward children (after all, bubble wrap is not only fun for kids, but it is a very safe material as well). Pinterest yields plenty of ideas. For example, posts on the site recommend creating a hopscotch game from large squares of bubble wrap, or painting it to make a bubbly background for cut-out fish or a snowy backdrop for winter scenes.