Even though most of us like the sound and feel of popping bubble wrap, it should, unfortunately, be on your single-use-plastic-products- to-avoid list.
Bubble wrap is made from polythene, which is one of the world’s most commonly manufactured plastics (1): polythene is typically used to make bags, transparent film, or water bottles.
Unfortunately, it is not biodegradable, unless treated with chemicals to be able to break down the plastic. However, as explained below, polythene plastics can be collected by recycling facilities (check with yours if indeed feasible!).
It is typically first shredded, crushed, then compacted into bales or palled, then ultimately melted before being repurposed for other uses such as plastic chairs.
Let’s then apply our Zero Waste principles to bubble wrap together:
A) How can we avoid it and choose a better Eco Friendly packaging? = REFUSE, REDUCE
B) What should we do with bubble wrap (or similar materials) we already have at home? = REUSE
C) Where and how can we properly dispose of this product? = RECYCLE
REFUSE: Use What You Already Have
To the question, where can you get free bubble wrap (equivalent)? We recommend having a look at the three solutions below.
Most of you will probably have these at home. Therefore, before throwing them away or donating them, consider reusing these as a bubble wrap alternative.
Last but not least, we are particular fans of these packing solutions as they do not contain any chemicals or plastics.
Remember that considering the overall impact on the environment is crucial within the Zero Waste Community:
- How and where is a given product created or produced?
- Is it processed and manufactured with dangerous chemicals or toxins?
- Can I properly dispose of it with limited harm, environmentally wise?
Creating a virtuous circle is key to a successful waste-free home.
Paper, Newspaper, And Cardboard
Paper and Cardboard are safe and Eco Friendly alternatives to bubble wrap: they are an ideal material to wrap kitchen utensils, plates, and the like.
We recommend magazines and newspapers as protection when packing with boxes: namely, you can either shred magazines in smaller pieces or roll them, and use these to separate the objects within your cardboard box.
This will act as cushioning and avoid potential friction.
We particularly like this green alternative to conventional bubble wrap as it is easy to find (at home or friends), and more affordable than buying new wrapping materials.
Old Clothes, Towels, And Rags
The same logic applies with cloths or rags you no longer use. These come particularly handy when wrapping fragile objects and storing them all together in a box.
We traditionally opt for these readily available alternatives when we need to transport glasses, bottles, cups, or jewels.
As a best practice, we recommend using towels as a separate layer between the heavy objects at the bottom of the box, and the more fragile, lighter ones on top. Quite easy to do with these items.
Paper Waste To Shred
Suppose you work in an office that is not yet paper-free (unfortunately), search for paper waste! This probably means you also have access to a paper shredder.
As mentioned above with newspapers, use it to fill the void in between your items in the box.
Search for paper waste not only in your office but also in schools, small companies, or shops. Most will gladly give it away instead of taking care of storage and disposal.
REDUCE: If Additional Wrapping Is Needed
It would be reasonable to say that using only what you already possess at home as packaging might be insufficient, even more so in the case of large families.
Therefore, we would like to suggest the below for two situations:
- Either if you are unsure on which packaging to choose when buying fragile objects,
- Or when you need to buy the actual packaging material, and you are looking for a more sustainable alternative.
Everything they use from beginning to end (including shipping!) is recycled or compostable; paper tape, labels, and envelopes, etc. In terms of cushioning, they use recyclable kraft paper. In terms of packaging, they opt for compostable, dissolvable starch-based packing peanuts.
Compared to plastic, cornstarch is a much more sustainable material for packaging: it has many benefits (2).
- It comes from a renewable resource, i.e., corn.
- It is biodegradable and often reintegrated as an agricultural fertilizer.
- It does not contain any toxins or harmful chemicals (such as polyvinyl chloride or dioxin, found in conventional plastics).
- Its carbon production is lower, just as the amount of greenhouse gas emissions produced (compared to plastics).
Bagasse is another sustainable alternative: you could simply label it as being ‘waste material’ from sugar production. It can serve different purposes, for instance, as biofuel. Additionally, it can turn into a mouldable packaging material (3).
D) Air Pillows
Air Pillows can easily be reused and recycled in the appropriate waste stream. Make sure that the recycled film uses post-consumer waste plastic.
Indeed, it is crucial to minimize the amount of ‘virgin’ plastic being used and being sent to landfill.
Lastly, opt for biodegradable options; it should usually take a year or two for these to decompose without any toxins being released. Rest assured, this does not mean that it will have less air permeability or resistance than conventional plastic (4).
E) Bubble Wraps From Recycled Polyethylene
The Enviro-Bubble from U-haul is 100% recyclable and reusable, which makes it a good option for conventional bubble wrap. It is available in small and large bubble sizes and is made from recycled polyethylene.
It is an efficient and versatile protective material to wrap and isolate fragile items such as electronics, paintings, decorations, and the like.
G) Kraft Paper
Kraft Paper, such as the Geami WrapPak, is biodegradable and is one of our favorite recyclable alternative to bubble wrap options.
It is a combination of a die-cut kraft paper with a tissue interleaf paper.
The particular system uses specific processes to convert environmentally friendly paper into safe packaging.
Lastly, we like this innovative paper-based system as it eliminates the need for tape and cutting (thanks, among others, to smaller pre-pack dimensions).
REUSE OR RECYCLE: Can You Do So With Bubble Wrap?
Getting Creative For Reuse
If you do not plan on moving out anytime soon, and you have not yet been able to locate a recycling facility that could dispose of your bubble wrap properly, have a look at our suggestions:
- Reuse it to insulate a place or box, typically your greenhouse or your outdoor pet house.
- Wrap your pots as protection for your plants (mainly from frost).
- Apply it as a protective bottom in your grocery bags (however, do not let the food come in direct contact with it).
- Keep your purses or shoes in original shape by filling them in with bubble wrap.
- Spread in drawers as protection for your delicate goods and decrease noise when tidying. It is also handy in between fragile plates.
- DIY projects or crafts objects: for example, for your kid’s or teenager’s next school project, consider using bubble wrap for some parts rather than buy new pieces of plastics.
Recycling Might Be Tricky
Let’s take the example of London, where specific recycling centers accept bubble wrap, and others do not.
In the last option, this means you will have to throw it away through your all-purpose trash bag, which will be directly sent to landfills.
Therefore, before assuming what can be recycled or not, please contact your local authorities.
Additionally, bear in mind that there are different types of plastics, and not all are treated the same way in recycling centers.
Some of them use infra-red sensors, which can differentiate plastics based on the way they reflect light.
However, most of these are currently not cost-effective: it entails a time-consuming technology that is not yet available at each sorting facility (5).
We all know that plastic recycling rates are far from satisfactory. However, as highlighted multiple times on Puratium, we can contribute to a positive change just by sorting out trash correctly.
This alternative to bubble wrap article intended to exemplify the Zero Waste method: first, refuse what you do not need and consider reducing your original needs when it comes to packaging your items.
Then, reuse as much as possible the available options at home or in your immediate surroundings.
Lastly, consider the whole life cycle of a given Eco Friendly alternative by disposing of it correctly, i.e., with limited pollution and damage to the environment.
All in all, bubble wrap alternatives do exist and will act as reliable protection and cushioning for the products you need to transport. Bye, bye, plastic made bubble wrap!
Are you looking for more Zero Waste swaps at home? Hit the search button on our website! We extensively list sustainable alternatives for your kitchen, bathroom, personal care products, and many more.
A bit funny, a bit whacky. Lots of curiosity, lots of creativity. All for organic, minimalism and local. More of zero waste, more for our future 🌿