Man's hands holding Bubble Wrap

I remember one of the most fun parts of unwrapping packages as a kid was seeing how many bubbles I could pop in the protective plastic packaging. I obviously wasn’t too concerned about reusing this material, let alone whether it could be recycled.

But now that I’m older, I’m more interested in the question: Is Bubble Wrap recyclable? Many of us are buying more and more products online, so we’re left with plenty of packing materials that need to be disposed of. So let’s talk about what to do with the bubble-based packaging.

What Is Bubble Wrap?

For starters, Bubble Wrap is a trademarked term for plastic packaging, just like Styrofoam. In this case, Bubble Wrap started in 1957 when two engineers were attempting to make plastic wallpaper using two shower curtains. Three years later, Sealed Air started selling the product as packaging for electronics.

Bubble Wrap is made of low-density polyethylene (LDPE), or #4 plastic for those familiar with the plastic resins. LDPE is also used for thin plastic bags, such as dry cleaning and produce bags, as well as plastic film and wrap. Other types of packing material made from LDPE include air pillows and polyethylene foam.

Reuse or Recycle?

While many packaging products are designed for one-time use, Sealed Air actually manufactures Bubble Wrap with multiple uses in mind. However, you need to keep the bubbles unpopped for reuse to be an option.

Bubble Wrap should not just be considered for reuse in packaging, as it can serve many functions around the house. Here are seven ideas ranging from burglar alarm to toilet protector to plant insulator, and don’t forget about DIY fashion opportunities.

A Bubble Wrap dress? Why not? Photo: Shutterstock

If you can’t find a reuse opportunity, Bubble Wrap is recyclable. However, curbside recycling is limited because most communities do not pick up plastic bags and film, which can damage sorting machinery. Many grocery and other stores in the U.S. offer a plastic bag and film recycling bin at the front of the store. UPS Store locations will also accept bubble wrap for recycling, but we suggest you contact your local UPS Store before visiting to confirm they still accept it during the pandemic. If your regular grocery store doesn’t collect plastic bags, check Earth911 Recycling Search for recycling options near you — just enter your ZIP code.

If you don’t have nearby access to plastic bag recycling, you can ship your Bubble Wrap back to Sealed Air for recycling. The company maintains plants in California, Illinois, Massachusetts, and Texas, among other places, and will accept any of its packaging for recycling as long as you pay for shipping. Luckily, all plastic packaging is lightweight, so it won’t cost too much to ship your material for recycling.

Originally published on June 23, 2017, this article was updated in August 2021.

By Trey Granger

Trey Granger is a former senior waste stream analyst for Earth911.