Plastic bubble wrap has long been a favorite protective packaging material. It’s the go-to option among virtually all industries and sectors selling consumer and commercial goods.
For decades, bubble wrap has been used to protect everything from fragile and breakable products to building materials like glass window panes一it even has a reputation for being entertaining to play with! It consists of layers of plastic interspersed with enclosed air pockets that protect and cushion anything wrapped within it while providing transparency at the same time.
This has been an effective way of shipping and transporting goods safely for many years. But now, consumers and businesses are becoming more environmentally conscious. This has led many companies to move away from using plastic packaging and seek more sustainable alternatives.
From an environmental perspective, plastic packaging products like bubble wrap are classified as single-use plastics. This means they have the potential to cause significant pollution and other ecological issues, including the production of microplastics. Bubble wrap can be reused, but this does not address the issue of this packaging product’s eventual destination at a landfill site.
Climate change and ecological devastation are major talking points in today’s economy. Opting for an environmentally safe bubble wrap alternative can help reduce the waste your business produces while allowing you to win the trust of an increasingly conscious consumer base.
In this article, we will explore the best eco-friendly bubble wrap alternatives to help you minimize your impact on the natural world. But first, let’s discuss in detail why we should choose these alternatives.
What is Plastic Bubble Wrap Made From?
Up until around 2008, bubble wrap was exclusively made using plastic polymer film. This type of plastic material is notoriously durable. However, it’s also ecologically damaging and toxic as it can take hundreds of years to disintegrate once it’s disposed of.
Some manufacturers now offer bubble wrap products made of plastics that can break down within approximately 90 days. But these plastics still leech harmful microplastics and hormone-disrupting chemicals into the land and water around them. Plastic polymer film is still widely used across a range of industries and sectors, creating inevitable pollution that will cause countless ecological issues down the line.
The Downside of Using Plastic Bubble Wrap
According to data from Earthday.org, the world currently produces more than 380 million metric tons of plastic per year. Only around 9% of this plastic is recycled on a global scale, leaving a staggering 91% diverted to landfills. Additionally, over half of our annual global plastic production is dedicated to creating single-use plastic products that get discarded after just one use.
Around 14 million tons or more of this plastic land up in our oceans each year, creating large bodies of floating plastic pollution that entangle and choke marine animals. The plastic that remains in landfills is not harmless either.
These plastics break down into tiny (often microscopic) particles that can contaminate our soils and our waterways, enter the food chain, and kill or poison any animals that unwittingly ingest them. These microplastics have also been found in human organs, blood, and even placenta tissue. According to the World Economic Forum, the average person unknowingly eats a credit card’s worth of plastic in the form of microplastics each week.
German research suggests terrestrial microplastic pollution is a far greater problem than marine pollution. This research reveals that our land areas are between four and twenty-three times more polluted by microplastics on average. This pollution can severely impact humans, wildlife, and ecosystem health as microplastics leech dangerous chemicals into the soil, water, and our primary sources of food. Plastics in landfills and environments can also take hundreds, if not thousands, of years to break down.
The use of bubble wrap, like other single-use plastic products like plastic shopping bags, straws, and water bottles, contributes to this growing and urgent issue by adding additional plastic to our landfills and waterways.
This type of plastic is not recyclable. It can generally only get used a few times before it’s diverted to a landfill or dump site, making it an unsustainable way of packaging products一even if it is effective at keeping them protected and intact!
Eco-Friendly Bubble Wrap Alternatives
Are you looking for an alternative to bubble wrap for shipping your products to consumers or businesses? These are some of the most popular and widely available options that are just as effective at protecting and cushioning your products.
1. Recyclable Foam Mailers
Mailers are cushioned envelopes designed for shipping. Traditionally, they’re made of plastic or paper, lined with a layer of bubble wrap for added protection which means they are not recyclable and must be disposed of in the landfill. Nowadays, however, plenty of eco-friendly alternatives are available, including fully recyclable foam mailers made from plant-based and regenerative materials.
Some mailers can be put directly in the recycling bin to be made into another paper product. Others are stronger and more durable than single-use plastic and are thus engineered with the intention of getting reused. They come in a wide range of sizes, allowing you to ship products of various dimensions.
Mailers are easy to customize with your business’s logo, color palette, usage directions, and contact information. This provides a valuable source of marketing for your brand at no detriment to the planet.
2. Recycled Paper Packaging
Paper is one of the most widely recycled packaging materials available. So, using recycled paper packaging material for your products makes plenty of sense from an ecological perspective. There are many options to choose from. You can re-use any source of paper available to you to package your products securely or invest in corrugated paper packaging, which is often made from recycled materials and is, in itself, 100% recyclable and reusable too.
Corrugated paper or cardboard is a fluted sheet consisting of three paper layers. This paper is easily shaped around the items you wish to ship to keep them stable and secure at all times. It’s also extremely lightweight, cost-effective, durable, and easily manufactured from a wide range of sources.
3. Compostable LDPE alternatives
Another sustainable alternative to bubble wrap is compostable films and wraps that mimic the properties of low density polyethylene. These can be used for things like produce bags and flexible product packaging. This type of “plastic” performs in much the same way as traditional plastic but starts to decompose safely once exposed to light. Most compostable films and wraps on the market now last for around two years before they begin to deteriorate, meaning they can be reused a few times before discarding.
These materials effectively protect products against environmental factors like sunlight and moisture and offer a sleek and professional look without harming the environment. They can often be costly and are primarily used by more prominent manufacturing industries as a result. However, they are becoming more affordable and widely available as demand grows.
Remember to source your compostable plastic packaging from a licensed and reputable vendor to ensure that it will actually decompose, safely, over time. There are some products advertised as “compostable” that are still petroleum-based and will still create microplastics when disposed of. It is important to ensure that any compostable product you source will not produce microplastics that end up in the environment
4. Reusable Packaging
Making use of reusable packaging is one of the best ways to ensure that your packaging will not reach a landfill. Options like glass jars and reusable aluminum tins lend your products a premium look and feel and protect them effectively from the elements.
As an added perk, consumers can reuse or repurpose this type of packaging over and over again until it breaks or wears out.
Other forms of biodegradable packaging are also available, including options like compostable air peanuts, which are lightweight, durable, and excellent at cushioning fragile items during transit. They are indefinitely reusable, which makes them a superior and sustainable choice compared to their plastic or Styrofoam counterparts – which are also reusable but will take centuries to biodegrade.
5. Cornstarch Packaging Products
Bioplastic made from cornstarch is an excellent sustainable alternative to bubble wrap. It is in increasingly high demand across dozens of industries because it is fully biodegradable and created from a renewable and organic source.
Cornstarch bioplastics can effectively protect products一even those getting shipped over long distances一and they are generally quite affordable and easy to source. This plastic alternative produces significantly fewer greenhouse gas emissions than other conventional forms of packaging. It also does not contain any toxins, making it safe to use for food and cosmetic products.
6. Bagasse Packaging
Bagasse is an eco-friendly and biodegradable alternative to bubble wrap made from sugar cane fiber. This fiber is a waste product of the sugar industry that’s cleverly been repurposed to protect consumer goods. It can be used alone or combined with other materials like cotton to create a robust, high-quality packaging product that is inexpensive to produce and easy to decompose.
Bagasse is reusable for about two to three uses before it starts to decompose. It contains no toxins, making it an excellent option for consumers concerned about their health and who want to avoid the endocrine-disrupting chemicals emitted by plastics.
7. Green Wrap
Green Wrap is a fully compostable, recyclable, and reusable paper bubble wrap alternative. It’s made from two layers of brown paper with a hexagonal pattern cut into it. This pattern creates a raised effect that can protect a wide range of products. It’s often used to wrap up fragile items like glass jars and is as aesthetically pleasing as it is durable.
The original Green Wrap was developed in 2014 by Savannah Bee, a honey company. The business used the wrap to protect its jars during shipping. They found that not only did it help to reduce plastic waste, but it also enhanced packing efficiency by reducing the storage and transit space taken up by packaging materials.
8. Seaweed Packaging
Not only is seaweed-based packaging an eco-friendly bubble wrap alternative, but it is also edible! Made from an abundant and renewable source, this material is ideal for packaging consumable items like food and drink. Your customers can eat it directly and safely without any glass or plastic needed.
This option is fantastic for reducing waste at events but can be costly to produce and source, at least for now. Keep an eye on it, as seaweed packaging could be one of the best options available for food and drink packaging in the near future.
9. Mushroom Packaging
Mushroom packaging is another eco-friendly bubble wrap replacement that’s great for packaging smaller items, ranging from snacks to electronics and more. It’s made from mushrooms – a renewable and sustainable resource – by processing, cleaning, drying, and shaping the hyphae or roots.
This fungal material is easily paired with other natural materials like cotton to create a robust and visually exciting packaging. Mushroom packaging degrades quickly and effectively in home compost heaps and in the environment and does not emit any harmful chemicals or greenhouse gasses during production or degradation.
10. Air Pillows
Inflatable air pillows are perfect for cushioning fragile items and filling empty spaces and gaps in shipping boxes. They come in a wide range of different configurations, materials, and sizes, including pillows made from fully recyclable, reusable, or even biodegradable materials like bioplastic.
They are cost-effective to use and easy to source. Their production has minimal environmental impacts as long as you can commit to sourcing biodegradable, compostable, or reusable variations. However, traditional plastic is also used to make these pillows. So, be sure to double-check that you are buying truly biodegradable air pillows to minimize your business’s potential effects on the environment.
Switch to a Bubble Wrap Alternative
Using an eco-friendly bubble wrap replacement is one of the best ways to reduce your business’ environmental pollution and help to keep the world’s land and waterways clean for generations to come. It will also position your brand favorably in the eyes of consumers who are willing to pay more for premium products with packaging that does not generate pollution or put delicate ecosystems at risk.
There are many options available to suit every need, product, and budget. These alternatives are just as effective as plastic at protecting your products without detracting from the look and feel of what your brand has to offer. In fact, in many ways, they enhance it.