We use plenty of it when wrapping our most fragile items and get a kick out of popping it before throwing it away — but can bubble wrap be recycled once we’re done with it?
Let’s take a look.
How is bubble wrap made?
Bubble wrap is classified as a plastic film.
The material is in fact made from polyethylene plastic (PE), a crystalline polymer used to produce some of the world’s most widely used consumer plastics. It’s known for its unparalleled durability and versatility.
As you might already know, products made out of polyethylene are not biodegradable. This is the same as other plastics, such as the non-biodegradable polystyrene. These non-biodegradable plastics make for some of the biggest culprits behind littering and accumulating in the environment.
While these factors make PE far from being an eco-friendly material in any way, this common plastic is also widely recycled. After use the material can be easily melted down and is well-suited for remodeling. This differs considerably to PVC items which are not recyclable, these include products such as cling film – check out some great cling film alternatives here.
So, while polyethylene plastic is recyclable, the answer to ‘is bubble wrap recyclable’ is a little more complicated than that.
Whether you’ve been indulging in a little online shopping or have just moved house, here’s all you need to know about how to get rid of your bubble wrap in the most environmentally friendly way possible!
Is plastic bubble wrap recyclable?
So, first things first, let’s answer the first question you might have when faced with boxes and boxes of bubble wrap: Is bubble wrap recyclable?
As a polyethylene product, plastic bubble wrap is 100% recyclable, even though the actual recycling process is a little more complicated than just leaving all your bubble wrap in the recycling bin.
As opposed to the hard plastics that you’re used to putting in the recycling bin (plastic bottles, trays, jugs, and so on), bubble wrap is a plastic film just like plastic bags, bread bags, and soft plastic wrappers.
These films can be recycled at your local recycling facility instead of at home as you would do with hard plastics, requiring a little more research and time on your part.
However, the extra effort is definitely worth it. As a non-biodegradable material, bubble wrap left to sit in the landfill will not only take as much as 100 years to decompose, but it will also contribute to some of the worst issues when it comes to plastic pollution. Shamefully, UK citizens are some of the worst plastic waste producers in the world.
Can you put bubble wrap in the recycling bin UK?
While the large majority of households won’t be able to put their bubble wrap in the wheelie bin for recycling, some councils have started to allow household collection for bubble wrap and other recyclable plastic films, including carrier bags.
If you’re not one of the lucky few to have access to this new local council initiative, taking your bubble wrap and other recyclable plastic films to the nearest collection point will be your next best option.
These designated collection points are likely to be major supermarkets or pharmacies, so you won’t have to travel that far to be able to recycle your films. In addition to the classic polyethylene bubble wrap and your non-biodegradable carrier bag, you’ll also be able to bring your bread bags, breakfast cereal liners, frozen food bags, and all other plastic films that are not biodegradable or compostable.
If, for some reason, you cannot access a local recycling point or your options won’t allow for bubble wrap recycling alongside your other plastic films, the next best option will be to reuse it.
Why is bubble wrap difficult to recycle?
But what exactly makes the inconspicuous bubble wrap so difficult to recycle, even though it’s made out of the most widely recycled plastic on the market?
The bulk of the problem comes from how the material is made and what it looks like: Two plastic sheets of low-density polyethylene (RIC #4 low-density polyethylene film, to be more precise) are laid on top of each other as air is pushed through them, creating the airy bubbles we love to pop so much.
This process creates an incredibly lightweight and flexible material, perfect for wrapping and protecting all sorts of items, and equally as perfect for getting in the way of recycling machines.
Bubble wrap is so light and stretchable that it can easily clog the machines used to process plastic recycling, and for this reason, the material is considered a contaminant to the system. All polyethylene soft plastics, including carrier bags, are treated the same way when it comes to the recycling process, needing a little extra special care to be handled properly and separately from hard plastics.
When jammed or clogged, in fact, the machines used in recycling facilities can not only damage the equipment, causing time-consuming delays and expensive repairs, but also quickly become a health hazard for the workers involved.
What else can I do with bubble wrap?
While we’ve seen that bubble wrap is definitely recyclable, figuring out how you can recycle the material in your area should not be the end of the line if you’re looking to avoid single-use plastics entirely.
As always, recycling plastic is far from the most impactful action you can take to make your life and consumption more sustainable.
Reusing and repurposing your plastic, whether it’s a forgotten carrier bag in your kitchen or discarded bubble wrap from your latest delivery, is always going to be your first step when it comes to reducing waste. Luckily enough, bubble wrap is one of the easiest plastic products you could ever repurpose!
Simply reusing old bubble wrap for your next shipment or house move is the easiest way to give the plastic film a brand-new life, as long as you resist the temptation of popping those air bubbles, that is.
In addition to simply stashing all your bubble wrap away until the time comes for wrapping gifts, you can also put it to good use in your garden, wrapping it around your plants for extra protection and insulation over the winter. If you have children, they’ll surely enjoy playing with pieces of old bubble wrap as a craft material, as it can easily be incorporated into all sorts of art projects and it’s incredibly easy to handle.
Plus, if you’re a keen artist yourself, there’s no shortage of bubble wrap projects you can draw inspiration from!
So, the next time you find yourself with a load of bubble wrap, you can either find a local recycling centre that will accept the bubble wrap plastic film, keep it and reuse it at a later date or put it to use with a repurposing project.
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Ben is the Creator and Editor of Tiny Eco Home Life. I write and publish information about more sustainable, environmentally friendly living in and around the home.
Alongside this website, I love spending time in the natural world, living a simple life and spending time with my young family (Murphy the dog!) I round up my thoughts and recent blogs on the Eco Life Newsletter.