Is Bubble Wrap Recyclable? 5 Creative Ways To Reuse It

A man holding a small globe covered with bubble wrap

When we talk about wasteful plastic products, bubble wrap tends to get overlooked. This is a mistake, as approximately 240,000 miles worth of this product is produced annually in the US alone. That’s a lot of plastic packing material to be dumped in landfills, buried, or incinerated. This of course leads us to the central question - is bubble wrap recyclable?

Yes, bubble wrap is recyclable and can be disposed of easily. Most of us have some experience recycling, whether you normally use technologies to reduce waste or rely on your curbside recycling bin. All to say, once you know the basics of how to recycle or reuse this product, you’ll never just throw it in the trash can ever again.

To help you get started, we’ll be exploring a few key questions and topics related to bubble wrap recycling. This includes:

Before we get into the many ways of recycling and reusing bubble wrap, it’s important to understand what it’s made of. This will explain why certain types of bubble wrap shouldn’t just be thrown away.


What is bubble wrap made of?

A person taking folded bubble wrap out of a box

Bubble wrap is made of polyethylene. This commonly used plastic consists of hundreds of air pockets, which can act as a shock-absorbing cushion. This is why many people cover their things in wrap when transporting them from place to place. The wrap can protect items from getting damaged during the trip.


Can you recycle bubble wrap?

A plant growing in a bubble-wrap bag

Yes, you can recycle bubble wrap. Doing so, however, requires different steps than recycling cans or bottles. It must be recycled alongside other plastic films, like shrink wrap. They can’t be accepted curbside, so you may need to find plastic bag recycling at your local grocer or pharmacy.

Recycling bubble wrap is well worth the extra steps. There are so many reasons to recycle this popular product. You can find several of these reasons described in these books on climate change. If you don’t have time to go into that much detail, here are 6 quick reasons to start recycling your bubble wrap.

  1. Reduces greenhouse gas emissions: Recycling reduces our carbon footprint and greenhouse gas emissions. By reducing our carbon footprint, we’re then lowering the methane-release waste from landfills. 
  2. Saves money: Put simply, recycling this item means you won’t have to buy as much of it in the future. This may not seem like a lot of money, but finding ways to repurpose different items can save you a lot in the long run.
  3. Conserves resources: By recycling or reusing your packing materials, you’re helping to conserve the resources used to manufacture it. This includes water and natural gas or oil.
  4. Creates jobs: When you choose to recycle your packing material, you’ll help create numerous jobs. There are sorters, mechanics, drivers, and so many other key positions. 
  5. Saves landfill space: Plastic pollution is a serious issue affecting our planet. Recycling this material has an impact, as you’re lessening the amount of waste in landfills (which saves other waste from being buried or incinerated).
  6. Lessens demand for raw materials: Recycling anything helps reduce our need to harvest raw materials. This is very important, as our demand for raw materials can lead to the displacement of people and animals around.

 


 

How to recycle bubble wrap

Hands popping some bubble packing material

Bubble wrap is recyclable, but there are a few extra steps you have to take to recycle it properly. The good news is - recycling isn’t the only way of being more eco-friendly with your plastic packing material. There are also plenty of ways to reuse it! To help you live a more sustainable lifestyle, let’s discuss a variety of ways to reuse and recycling options for your bubbly packing material.


1. Use designated recycling bins

Many people wonder - is bubble wrap recyclable? The next step is to ask where it can safely be disposed of. Since this type of plastic film isn’t accepted for curbside recycling, you’ll need to find special recycling programs at grocery stores. If you’re not sure if this is available at grocery stores near you, call ahead to find one that accepts bubble wrap. Any recycling program that takes your bubble wrap recyclable waste will probably also accept any plastic bag or bread bag you have as well.


2. Cover your plants 

If you have a bunch of this material from your own packages or ones you ordered online shopping, there are many practical uses for it. You could, for example, use it to cover your plants and protect them from frost. Frost can seriously damage your plants, but covering them with this bubbly material and tying it securely in place can make a significant difference. 


3. Keep food hot/cold

Do you have a long drive back from the supermarket? If so, you should consider lining the inside of your shopping bags with this versatile plastic. This packaging material can keep your hot foods hot and prevent your iced foods from getting too warm. That means you won’t have to worry about your food spoiling on the long drive home. This makes this one of the best ways to repurpose bubble wrap while also reducing food waste


4. Use as insulation

A creative way of reusing this material is as extra insulation for your home. Do you feel like your home is losing a lot of heat during the colder months? Try taping a sheet of this plastic product across any windows you think are leaking warm air. You might be surprised at just how much it can help your home hold onto its warm sealed air. 


5. Reuse your packaging 

Can bubble wrap be recycled? Yes, but you can also keep using it for its intended purpose, so long as the bubbles aren’t popped. If the bubbles can still act as cushions, you can continue using it instead of other packing materials to protect your fragile household items. If the bubbles start popping, then you can start looking for recycling programs in your area. 


4 packaging solutions that are more sustainable than bubble wrap

Though there are ways to recycle and reuse this plastic film, you don’t have to use it to pack up your belongings. There are plenty of eco-friendly packing materials out there to purchase instead. Here are just 4 alternatives that are both sustainable and cost-effective. 


1. Air pillow

Several recyclable air pillows all connected to each other

Air pillows are translucent high-density polyethylene (HDPE) film bags filled with air. They resemble small pillows and come in a wide range of shapes and sizes. Regardless of size, they add very little weight to your cardboard boxes. This makes them ideal for transporting your belongings. Though air pillows can be reused, they aren’t significantly more sustainable than their bubbly alternative. Something the two do have in common is that they’re recyclable and can be brought to a recycling program at a designated center. 


2. Mushroom packaging

Glasses packaged with mushroom packaging foam
Image Credit: Grown Bio

If you’ve never heard of packaging made of mushrooms, you’re not alone. They’re a fairly new alternative to styrofoam. Mushroom packaging is made from a mixture of agricultural rest-streams and mycelium, which is a root network of mushrooms. Unlike most packaging materials, it’s biodegradable, strong, and flame resistant. 



3. Biodegradable packing peanuts

A cardboard box of biodegradable packing peanuts

Traditional packing peanuts are made of polystyrene. This material, which is also referred to as styrofoam, is non-biodegradable. Thankfully, you can now buy biodegradable packing peanuts made of materials like cornstarch and potato starch. Some brands of biodegradable peanuts even dissolve in water! Despite being so different from polystyrene peanuts, the sustainable alternative is just as capable of protecting your belongings. 


4. Compostable mailers

An open lomi electric composter on a countertop

If you need to mail a book or artwork to someone, try using a compostable mailer made from renewable plastic film. Once you’re finished with it, you can quickly dispose of your mailer by putting it into a kitchen composter. Unlike other types of compost bins, an electric composter like Lomi can quickly break down different types of compostable packaging and Lomi approved bioplastics. Lomi can also completely break down the packaging it ships in! But before you add any non-food item to Lomi, make sure to check that the product is Lomi approved. 

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Top 4 FAQs about recycling bubble wrap

Two people packing up their dishes in a box

Have any other questions about how to recycle bubble wrap? We’re here to help! Here are 4 FAQs about recycling wrap, whether or not it’s biodegradable, and much more.


How long does bubble wrap take to break down?

Plastic bubble wrap can take up to 1,000 years to decompose once it’s in a landfill. This is only true, of course, for the plastic version made of polyethylene. The biodegradable version naturally takes far less time to decompose. It can be broken down in as quickly as 180 days by bacteria and other living organisms. 


Does bubble wrap need to be popped before it’s recycled?

Yes, bubble wrap needs to be popped before it’s recycled. Before you bring your wrap and any other type of plastic film material to an approved recycling bin, take a moment to pop all the air bubbles. This saves others from having to do it manually and readies the material to be broken down to create something new.


Are envelopes with bubble wrap recyclable?

Paper envelopes with bubble wrap are not recyclable. This is because the inner wrap layer and outer paper layer can’t be separated properly. Plastic mailers, however, can be recycled. They must be recycled along with your other plastic film, like grocery bags. They can’t be recycled curbside.


Is bubble wrap biodegradable?

Some types of bubble wrap sheets are biodegradable. That said, most types aren’t biodegradable, as they’re made of a commonly used plastic called polyethylene. However, there are many eco-friendly brands out there. These versions are biodegradable and can break down naturally within several months.


Now that you know how to recycle bubble wrap and other plastic films, it’s time to get started! Is bubble wrap recyclable? Of course, knowing how to reuse bubble wrap is just one of many ways to live a more sustainable lifestyle. You could invest in some zero-waste products or buy an electric composter like Lomi for your food waste. Even changes that seem small can have a meaningful impact on the environment. Plus, it just feels good to do your part!


Written by: E Sawden