Is Bubble Wrap Recyclable?

close shot of hands popping bubbles on teal bubble wrap

Treehugger / Kasia Surowiecka

The good news is, yes, bubble wrap can be recycled. But don’t toss it in the bin with the rest of your regular recyclables for curbside pickup. While it is technically a plastic, bubble wrap doesn't fall into the same category as water bottles, milk jugs, and similar containers.

According to the resin code that designates plastic by its source material, those products are mostly made of high-density polyethylene #1 and #2 plastics. Items under those classifications are easily recycled. Bubble wrap, on the other hand, is a low-density polyethylene #4 and considered a plastic film. Like others in that category (such as bread bags and dry-cleaning bags), it also has a tendency to tangle, which can create problems with the sorting machines at recycling facilities.

In recent years manufacturers have rolled out “greener” versions of the wrap made from recycled plastic. However, since many consumers remain unsure of what to do with leftover bubble wrap, most of it finds its way to landfills. Its plastic-polymer construction means it won't biodegrade. When it comes to mailing a fragile item or wrapping household belongings, newsprint, kraft paper, or cardboard are better choices.

How to Recycle Bubble Wrap

used piece of teal bubble wrap with old Converse sneakers and backpack

Treehugger / Kasia Surowiecka

When you can, try to find other uses for discarded bubble wrap before you throw it away or send it off for recycling. Chances are there is at least one more way in which its usefulness can be repurposed. When you are ready to recycle, be aware that cities and states have different policies as to how and where they accept bubble wrap. It’s always a good idea to check with your local recycling program first for details and specifics relevant to your area. Most centers will require that the bubble wrap be clean and dry, for example.

Drop-Off Bins

commercial metal recycling bins with labels in Polish

Treehugger / Kasia Surowiecka

The most common places that take bubble wrap are businesses that accept other plastic film recycling, like grocery bags. Many supermarkets and chain retailers have a general area, usually at the front entrance, where items can be dropped off, free of charge. These containers are meant to make the process easier for consumers. Some stores have expanded their kiosks to accept bubble wrap as well as other harder-to-recycle items like batteries, corks, and filters. Be sure to check the store’s website or customer service desk regarding any special requirements.

Take-Back Programs

little kid wearing helmet peeks in a recycling drop-off bin

Treehugger / Kasia Surowiecka

Some major shipping companies like UPS participate in take-back programs. In addition to other materials like shipping peanuts and air pouches, bubble wrap can be brought in to the stores for recycling. Call the particular location ahead of time to confirm collection hours and any other requirements or limitations. These companies often require that the bubble wrap be deflated beforehand.

Ways to Reuse Bubble Wrap

hand wraps fragile gold locket in teal bubble wrap for safekeeping

Treehugger / Kasia Surowiecka

If access to the above options is not feasible, find ways to repurpose the bubble wrap before throwing it away. Reusing, rather than recycling, is always a good first option, as the recycling process creates its own share of pollution, waste, and energy consumption. Unless it gets torn or popped, bubble wrap can stand years of wear and tear.

If you’ve got a large quantity of bubble wrap on your hands, reach out to friends, family, or neighbors to see if someone else may have a need for it. Maybe a free donation to a local school or non-profit organization would be a good place to start. Or perhaps a local company or small-business owner could benefit from it for shipping purposes. Social media groups centered on trading or donating household items can also be a quick way to reach a large audience for this type of request.

Storage Areas

person crouches down on ground to wrap bubble wrap around framed picture for shipping

Treehugger / Kasia Surowiecka

There are plenty of places around the home, workshop, and garage where bubble wrap would be useful. Use it in kitchen cabinets as a cushion between plates. In the bathroom, line storage containers that hold liquids or gels as a protective barrier against leaks and spills. Personal items like holiday decorations, framed photos, books, and family heirlooms can be wrapped individually for safe-keeping. For crafters and artists, a go-to pile of bubble wrap can be a lifesaver for masterpieces that need to be carefully transported.

Closets and Drawers

plates and bowls in kitchen cabinet wrapped in bubble wrap

Treehugger / Kasia Surowiecka

Bubble wrap from a large roll works well as a dust-protector. Cut panels into the particular size needed, adhere with tape, and use as a drape over coats, suits, uniforms, or dresses. As a jewelry organizer, smaller sections of the wrap can be used to bundle loose or bulky accessories.

Stuff large wads of the wrap into tall boots or hats to help maintain their form. Bubble wrap mailers are an ideal way to protect smaller, hand-held electronics from dust and debris. In a pantry, insert individual squares between bowls, platters, and dishes for ease of stacking.

Car or Plane Travel

roll of teal bubble wrap in trunk of grey car

Treehugger / Kasia Surowiecka

It’s not a bad idea to keep a small collection of bubble wrap in the trunk of your vehicle or favorite piece of luggage. It won’t take up much space or weight and comes in handy for an array of uses. When packing, it can prevent shoes from touching clean, folded clothing or fill excess space to keep contents from shifting. On the return trip, wrap any souvenirs you wouldn’t want spilling or breaking in your stowed luggage. On a road trip, secure beverages and snack containers in the picnic basket or cooler.

Donate to a Research Institution

overhead shot of person's hand putting used bubble wrap into paper bag

Treehugger / Kasia Surowiecka

Bubble wrap is being used by scientists to store liquid samples for experiments, trap spiders for research, keep animals warm during surgery, and as insulation for solar stills. Of course, pinpointing a research institution carrying out investigations that specifically require bubble wrap is not an easy task, but all scientists have delicate equipment, instruments, and lab glassware that might need protection.

Shipping

standing person wraps bubble wrap around fragile glass mirror on stand

Treehugger / Kasia Surowiecka

If you mail or receive packages on a regular basis, think about dedicating some free space to reusable shipping materials. Bubble wrap is nearly indestructible and can last through multiple uses without degrading. Set it aside with your scissors and tape, and the next time you have to ship something, you’ll have a ready supply on hand. In the long run, this will save on costs and eliminate the need to head to the store to purchase new wrap.

As a last resort, you can always pop the individual air cells of the bubble wrap, which is scientifically proven to reduce stress, as well as very satisfying.