How Can I Recycle Bubble Wrap Packaging?


Bubble wrap is undoubtedly useful for companies shipping their products in the mail or through parcel delivery networks. What’s more the number of home deliveries has rocketed in the last year or two thanks to the pandemic stopping us going out.

Bubble wrap is made from plastic but should not be placed into your recycle bin. Bubble wrap is classed as film for recycling purposes, much like cling film. It should therefore be recycled separately. Many council run recycling sites accept plastic film for recycling.

bubble wrap packaging

Why Can’t Bubble Wrap Go Into Plastic Recycling Bins With Bottles?

While both bottles and bubble wrap are both plastics, plastic is a very broad category of materials. In most areas across the UK, kerbside recycling collections are offered for hard plastics, like bottles. These are collectively known as Group 1 plastics, also known as Polyethylene Terephthalate (PETE or PET for short).

Bubble wrap is not a group one plastic, it belongs in group 4, or Low Density Polyethylene (LDPE). For that reason, recycling processes are different, so placing it into your recycling bin with bottles would simply contaminate the recycling process if it is not removed prior to processing.

Why Don’t Councils Just Separate Bubble Wrap From Bottles At The Recycling Centre?

In an ideal world, we’d be able to simply put all plastics into a recycling bin together, however at the moment there is no reliable way to separate them other than by hand. The cost of that to councils or waste recycling companies would be prohibitive so the solution in the short term is to just accept group one plastics.

Why Is Bubble Wrap Used If It’s So Hard To Recycle?

Just because bubble wrap cannot go into your recycle bin at home doesn’t mean it cannot be recycled. Bubble wrap can be accepted at many council household waste recycling centres (HWRCs). It’s not a service that is universal yet, so check your council website’s waste section to find out what’s offered in your area.

The reason so many companies use bubble wrap as packaging is fourfold.

Bubble Wrap Provides Great Protection

The main reason bubble wrap was invented and is still used today is it solves an expensive problem – items can easily be damaged during transport. Anything that’s fragile or vulnerable to knocks or drops can benefit from the cushioning properties offered by bubble wrap.

Bubble Wrap Is Cheap

The production of huge rolls of bubble wrap has become commonplace over decades, and as a result is very cheap to buy in large volumes.

A Lack Of Easy And Affordable Alternatives

Whole this becoming less true all the time, there’s a general feeling among manufacturers, particularly smaller manufacturers, that alternatives to bubble wrap are too expensive or too difficult to implement in their production lines and packing processes.

It’s Just What They Do

Replacing bubble wrap with a more sustainable material in deliveries simply isn’t particularly exciting for many companies, who would rather innovate with their products than spend time and money solving a problem that they don’t really consider to be of high importance.

Can Bubble Wrap Go Into General Waste?

Bubble wrap can go into general waste bins, but it isn’t ideal. It doesn’t break down well in landfill, potentially taking hundreds (if not thousands) of years to degrade.

What’s more, plastics contain chemicals that can release toxic gases and substances into the ground, so are much better recycled rather than thrown away wherever possible.

How To Recycle Bubble Wrap

Preparing bubble wrap helps in the recycling process, so being aware of what you can do before taking it to a plastic film drop off point helps the process work more efficiently.

Clean Recycling Is Better Recycling

Firstly, make sure it’s as clean as possible. If there’s stickers stuck to it, remove them as best you can. That doesn’t mean that you need to spend hours getting every last bit of the sticker off, just peel them off as best you can quickly. Most stickers should come off in one go, or without too much effort.

If there is any liquid or other dirt on the bubble wrap, a quick wipe can help the material be as pure as possible for recycling purposes.

Pop The Bubbles!

Next, rope the kids in if you’ve got some who are present and willing. Popping all the bubbles serves two purposes.

Firstly, the machinery used to process the recycling is often more susceptible to jamming with materials like bubble wrap than it is with cling film.

Secondly, bubble wrap takes up less space once it’s all popped.

Kids love this job. I’ve no idea what the attraction is, even though I was exactly the same as a child. The moment you lay eyes on bubble wrap, you know exactly how much fun it’s going to be to pop it all.

In fact, even now I still get that childish enjoyment, several decades on. Admittedly, the excitement does wear off a lot quicker these days though!

Re-Use Bubble Wrap For Your Own Packaging

Finally, a point that has been made many times on this site, although it’s often overlooked.

Just like the re-use rather than recycling of plastic bags is better, bubble wrap doesn’t need to be a single use product, you can use it over and over again.

If you like to post gifts for relatives birthdays or even have a sideline hustle in selling craft items you create on eBay, keeping a stash of bubble wrap you’ve found in deliveries is a great approach.

Firstly, you won’t need to buy more bubble wrap which would be an unnecessary expense and contribute to even more plastic in the world. Secondly, you won’t need to worry about binning or recycling the bubble wrap at all.

Responsible disposal of bubble wrap means that less plastic ends up in the sea. Oceans are already littered with huge quantities of waste, and much of that is plastic. At best it’s an eyesore and at worst it threatens marine life, potentially even getting back into the human food chain either directly or indirectly.

Knowing how to recycle bubble wrap packaging takes such a small effort by checking recycling services in your area, and you can even do your bit by making sure that friends, family and colleagues are aware that it shouldn’t be going into their plastic bins at home.

Liam Gifford

I'm Liam. I spent twenty four years on the bins in South Yorkshire and now spend my time on recycling projects. I created this site to use my knowledge of how the rounds work, and what people need to know about getting their wheelie bins emptied every week.

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