Bubble wrap makes an appearance every time we move, ship, or receive items. And as consumer preference for online shopping grows, bubble wrap products are increasingly making their way into our homes—and waste streams. Instead of throwing your bubble mailers or paddings in the trash, ask yourself: is bubble wrap recyclable?
Short answer: Yes, bubble wrap is recyclable. However, understanding exactly how to recycle bubble wrap requires a few extra steps. Let’s dive in.
Is Bubble Wrap Recyclable?
Bubble wrap is completely recyclable, but cannot be accepted curbside or grouped in with the rest of your home and business recycling.
Your recycling bin is probably full of what is known as hard plastics: bottles, containers, jugs, and more. These can be recycled curbside and are typically classified as Resin Identification Codes (RIC) #1 or #2. This number indicates the makeup of certain plastics. Harder plastics in the lower number range are made from polyethylene terephthalate (PET) or high-density polyethylene (HDPE).
Bubble wrap, on the other hand, is classified as a plastic film. Other plastic films include:
- Plastic bags (read more about plastic bag recycling)
- Shrink wrap (read more about shrink wrap recycling)
- Bread bags
- Soft plastic wrappers
Bubble wrap, in particular, is categorized under RIC #4, meaning it’s made up of low-density polyethylene (LDPE). This category and material of plastics should generally not be placed in curbside recycling.
In fact, plastic films are known as contaminants to the recycling system. This is because soft LDPEs like bubble wrap can clog the machines that process plastic recycling—posing a threat to both recyclers and their equipment.
After being separated from acceptable recyclables (or after causing problems with the equipment), the plastic films will be sent to the landfill. Once in a landfill, it’s estimated that plastic bags can take anywhere from 10-1,000 years to decompose completely.
However, #4 plastics like bubble wrap are still recyclable, just in a different way. Plastics such as bubble wrap should be grouped with other soft plastics and brought to designated drop-offs for plastic film.
How to Recycle Bubble Wrap
Bubble wrap can be recycled alongside other plastic films, like plastic bags, at designated recycling bins. These bins are typically advertised for plastic bag recycling and can be found at most grocery stores.
If your local grocer, pharmacy, or retailer does not offer plastic bag recycling, try these other options for bubble wrap recycling:
Reusing your bubble wrap should come before any effort is made to recycle it. So before asking, “is bubble wrap recyclable,” start by asking yourself, “how can I reuse my bubble wrap?”
Stash it away for your next move, shipment, present wrapping, or travel adventure. To most effectively reuse your bubble wrap, don’t pop the bubbles, and store it compactly with other plastic film.
Explore Other Local Recycling Options
Your grocery store may not offer plastic bag recycling drop-offs, or if it did, it may have rolled back its program due to COVID-19 restrictions. If this is the case, hold onto your plastic bags, bubble wrap, and other plastic films until you’re able to find an alternative or reopened drop off location.
At the residential level, find out where to recycle bubble wrap with websites like Earth911 and Plastic Film Recycling. These resources have directories to find any drop off locations for soft plastics in your area. (Business owners see below.)
Partner with Rubicon
If you represent a business that is producing a large volume of plastic film material including bubble wrap, partnering with a waste and recycling company like Rubicon® may be your most convenient option.
Rubicon aims to make commercial bubble wrap recycling more accessible through pick-up services, partnerships with local haulers and balers, and building simple-yet-effective plastic film recycling programs.
Can you Recycle Bubble Mailers?
Bubble mailers and bubble wrap envelopes are increasingly popular light-weight alternatives to cardboard boxes and other bulky mailers. However, this makes for a more intensive recycling process for businesses and consumers.
With bubble mailers, individuals can no longer just break down boxes and toss them in the recycling bin. Instead, consumers must sort their mailers by material and determine the proper recycling next-steps. This is crucial to avoid sending otherwise recyclable materials to landfills.
Bubble mailers are recyclable, but unlike cardboard, they cannot be thrown in with curbside recycling.
How to Recycle Bubble Mailers
The steps to recycle bubble mailers depend on the type of mailer and the materials of which they consist. If your bubble mailer is strictly composed of plastic film material, you can group it with plastic bags, bubble wrap, and other soft plastic films.
Make sure your mailers are clean, dry, and free of debris, and take steps to remove as many stickers as you can before adding the bubble mailer to your soft plastic waste pile. You can then drop off all of your soft plastic waste at once at the designated drop off (see the above “How to Recycle Bubble Wrap” section).
Bubble Wrap Recycling: Where Can Businesses Start?
Understanding how to dispose of bubble wrap can be a daunting task, especially for businesses or households that produce large quantities of plastic film waste.
At Rubicon, we find appropriate recycling solutions for every waste stream in order to keep as much material out of landfills as possible. Our recycling experts at Rubicon work with your organization to build a cost-effective, environmentally friendly bubble wrap recycling solution to ensure you save (or even make) money and keep recyclable materials out of landfills. Rubicon’s full-service offerings cover other commercial waste streams including food waste, organics recycling, electronic and hazardous waste, and more.
If you have any questions, or you are interested in learning more about Rubicon’s sustainability services, please contact us today.
Meredith Leahy is a Waste Diversion Manager at Rubicon. To stay ahead of Rubicon’s announcements of new partnerships and collaborations around the world, be sure to follow us on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter, or contact us today.