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Bubble wrap is a commonly used packaging material for fragile items during shipping and moving. However, as our reliance on online shopping increases, so does the amount of bubble wrap waste generated. This raises the question: is bubble wrap recyclable?

Related: Can You Recycle Styrofoam?

What Is Bubble Wrap Made From?

Bubble wrap is made from a thin, soft plastic called #4 low-density polyethylene (LDPE). LDPE is the same material used to make plastic bags from shops. This type of plastic is chosen for bubble wrap because it is flexible and relatively strong.

The manufacturing process of bubble wrap involves several steps. First, LDPE resin beads are melted down to form a thin film, which serves as the base material for bubble wrap. This film is then flattened and fed through rollers with small holes punched in them. As the film passes through the rollers, suction is applied to push it into the holes, creating the characteristic air bubbles. Once the air bubbles are blown into the film, a second layer of film is sealed on top to contain the air inside the bubbles. The bubble wrap is then cut, perforated, and compiled into rolls for packaging use.

While bubble wrap is made from LDPE, which is a type of plastic, it is important to note that not all plastics are recyclable in the same way. Bubble wrap falls under the category of plastic films, along with items like plastic bags, shrink wrap, and soft plastic wrappers. These plastic films, including bubble wrap, cannot be accepted curbside or grouped with other home and business recycling materials. They are considered contaminants in the recycling system because they can clog the machines used to process plastic recycling.

Related: How is E-waste Handled in the USA?

Is Bubble Wrap Recyclable?

Yes, bubble wrap is recyclable, but it can’t go in your curbside bin with your regular recycling.

Your recycling bin likely contains hard plastics like bottles, containers, and jugs, typically classified as Resin Identification Codes (RIC) #1 or #2. These are usually made from polyethylene terephthalate (PET) or high-density polyethylene (HDPE).

Bubble wrap is a type of plastic film like plastic bags, shrink wraps, bread bags, and soft plastic wrappers. Specifically, bubble wrap falls under RIC #4, meaning it is from low-density polyethylene (LDPE).

However, bubble wrap can still be recycled, but in a different way. It should be grouped with other soft plastics and brought to designated drop-off locations for plastic film recycling. These drop-off locations are at grocery stores and retailers. By properly recycling bubble wrap, you can help reduce our reliance on non-renewable resources and prevent harmful chemicals from being released into the environment.

In addition to recycling, there are other ways to reuse bubble wrap. For example, you can use it as garden insulation to protect plants during colder months or repurpose it for arts and crafts projects.

Related: E-Waste Reduction & Eco-Friendly Repair Practices

How To Recycle Bubble Wrap

Recycling bubble wrap is simple when you know the right steps to take. You can recycle bubble wrap alongside other plastic films, like plastic bags, at designated recycling bins. These bins are usually found at most grocery stores and are labeled for plastic bag recycling.

If your local grocery store, pharmacy, or retailer doesn’t offer plastic bag recycling, there are other options:

  1. Reuse First: Before recycling, consider reusing your bubble wrap. Store it for your next move, shipment, gift wrapping, or travel adventure.
  2. Other Local Recycling Options: Websites like Earth911 and Plastic Film Recycling offer directories to help you find nearby drop-off locations for soft plastics.

Related: What is Electronic Waste Recycling & How is it done?

Frequently Asked Questions

What is bubble wrap made of?

Bubble wrap is made from low-density polyethylene (LDPE), a type of plastic waste. LDPE is a versatile plastic that can be molded into various forms, making it ideal for creating flexible plastic films like bubble wrap, sandwich bags, and clingfilm. 

Is bubble wrap recyclable?

Yes, bubble wrap can be recycled. However, the process of recycling bubble wrap is more complex than recycling other types of plastic.

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Final Thoughts

While bubble wrap may not be recyclable through curbside programs, it can still be recycled at designated drop-off locations for plastic films. By properly recycling bubble wrap and exploring reuse options, we can contribute to a more sustainable future. Remember, every small step towards responsible waste management impacts your environment.

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