Is Bubble Wrap Recyclable?

published Jan 28, 2023
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person holding bubble wrap
Credit: leungchopan/Shutterstock

Bubble wrap often invokes feelings of nostalgia and memories of fighting with siblings to get the biggest piece, finding a place to spread it out, and jumping on it or sitting down to pop the bubbles. But as an adult, you may be wondering what happens to bubble wrap when you’re done popping all the bubbles (Every. Last. One.).

Because bubble wrap falls into a different recycling category than plastic containers or glass or plastic bottles or jars, sending it off to be recycled is a little more complicated than rinsing it and tossing it into the recycle bin.

Here’s a closer look at where bubble wrap falls in the big picture of recycling and an answer the ultimate question: Is bubble wrap recyclable?

Recycling Categories

If you’ve ever looked closely at the recycling symbol — a version of a Mobius Strip — you may have noticed a number inside. This number is the Resin Identification Code (RIC) which corresponds to the recycling category that the material falls into. The classifications are as follows:

  1. PET/PET (polyethylene terephthalate) — thinner single-use plastics like water bottles, shampoo bottles, peanut butter jars, and tennis balls
  2. HDPE (high-density polyethylene) — thicker plastics like laundry detergent bottles, milk jugs, cutting boards, and snowboards
  3. PVC, Vinyl (polyvinyl chloride) — plastic (pvc) pipes, totes, handbags, medical devices
  4. LDPE (low-density polyethylene) — grocery bags, container lids, certain toys, cling wrap, and bubble wrap
  5. PP (polypropylene) — medicine bottles, some bottle caps, syrup bottles, carpeting fibers
  6. PS (polystyrene, better known as Styrofoam) — packing peanuts, coffee cups, to-go containers, egg cartons
  7. Miscellaneous — sunglasses, phone cases, mixed packaging

Can I recycle bubble wrap?

Bubble wrap falls into the fourth category, LDPE. The problem with recycling LDPE material is that it is typically a thin plastic that isn’t compatible with standard recycling machines and equipment. The thin plastic can jam the machines causing delays and possible injuries to those attempting to clear the jam — the same is true for grocery bags. 

This means that bubble wrap can’t be included with the rest of your recyclable glass and plastic bottles.

But there’s still good news: Bubble wrap can be recycled! You just have to go about it a little differently. Often grocery stores, pharmacies, retailers, and postal centers, like UPS, will have a plastic bag recycling bin on-site where you can drop off used bubble wrap. 

To find a site that will recycle bubble wrap near you, you can search for locations on Earth 911 and on Bag and Film Recycling. Just make sure it is clean and dry and all the bubbles are popped before you drop it off.

Credit: Sarah Crowley

How to Reuse Bubble Wrap

Before you start hunting for a recycling center that accepts bubble wrap, you should consider reusing it to get the most out of the material. Here are a few ways to reuse and repurpose bubble wrap:

  • Reuse it as a packing material. If you can refrain from popping all the bubbles (ha!), you can reuse it to package delicate items for shipping or for your next move. But even if you do pop all the bubbles, it will still provide some cushioning that you can use for packaging.
  • Create art with your kids. You can use bubble wrap to create a stamp by taping it onto the end of a toilet paper or paper towel roll or gluing it onto cardboard shapes (plus, you’ll earn double points for reusing other materials) and stamping paint onto paper. 
  • Make a Twister game. In what may be the best reuse of bubble wrap, you can paint large circles on it in the Twister pattern and then play. Imagine the giggles!
  • Use it to relax. If you’re going to recycle it, all of the bubbles need to be popped anyway, so pour yourself a drink, settle in somewhere comfy, and start popping. You can also have your kids pop it while you enjoy some quiet time.