Eliminating Bubble Wrap from our Waste Stream

Bubble Wrap from Sealed Air
Bubble Wrap from Sealed Air

Bubble wrap was first invented in 1957.  For decades, it has been the best-selling product of Sealed Air Corp.  However, it is bulky, expensive to ship and store, and not easily disposed of. While bubble wrap is light-weight, it scores low for sustainability and cost factors.  Towns and
cities are starting to consider banning this product, along with polystyrene packing.

The good news is that there are better products available now, which are
certainly more sustainable than Bubble Wrap ever was.  Even Sealed air is rolling out a replacement of Bubble Wrap.  The replacement, dubbed iBubble Wrap, takes up far less space in storage and significantly reduces shipping cost as a result. However, these improvements come at a price to users both in cost and nostalgia; the signature bubble-popping sound that could be heard when squeezing the original Bubble Wrap is no longer part of the package, to the disappointment of children everywhere. But more significantly, iBubble Wrap needs to be inflated by the shipper, resulting in extra labor and extra cost. The current price of the custom pump required to inflate the wrap is $5500, and requires an extra step for the packer.

While this new product seems to offer an innovative solution to the issue of warehouse space for the packaging industry, it does little to resolve questions about waste and sustainability. It’s unclear whether the new Bubble Wrap is reusable, but realistically, it’s much more likely to be thrown out after a single use than reused, and the useful life of a product dependent on remaining inflated is most likely limited.

There are several other solutions now available for packing, many of them superior to Bubble Wrap.

Mycofoam mushroom packaging from Ecovative
Mycofoam mushroom packaging from Ecovative

A company called Ecovative  has developed packaging made from mushrooms.  While this scores very high in regard to sustainability, it is expensive and difficult to work with. Sealed Air has also developed an alternative suspension packaging call  which suspends items between sheets of film.  However, the packaging, which contains glue, is still difficult to recycle or reuse.

ECO-R3SP Suspension Packaging from GXT Green
ECO-R3SP Suspension Packaging from GXT Green

GXT Green has developed a suspension packaging solution called ECO R3SP™ which eliminates the weak points of Korvuu.  Their approach is to suspend items between reusable frames which are heat sealed, and therefore more sustainable, recyclable, and cost effective. This could be a cost effective, sustainable solution for many shippers.

It’s commendable that these companies continue to develop innovative solutions to a significant industry and waste disposal problem.  Perhaps it’s time for towns and cities to step up and take a stand on eliminating the old Bubble Wrap solution, and promote businesses’ use of these newer packing products.

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