Can I Recycle Packing Bubbles and Shipping Pillows?

Professor Plastics

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girl wrapping shoes in plastic shipping bubbles

Don’t you just love getting a package delivered to your door?

(I do. Especially if it’s shoes…)

But once you’ve got the goods, do you know what to do with the packaging? It’s usually easy to recycle the cardboard shipping box. But just what are you supposed to do with those plastic shipping pillows that actually do the hard work of protecting your stuff? Or those sheets of plastic packing bubbles that are really fun to pop?

Two answers: reuse and recycle.

But first, let’s marvel at these shipping pillows and packing bubbles for a bit. Did you ever stop to think about what they really are? Trapped air. That’s just about it: cushioning air that helps keeps your stuff from breaking (nothing worse or more wasteful than a broken gift arriving the day before Christmas).

Oh, and just a teeny tiny amount of lightweight plastics, usually polyethylene.

Next time you receive a package, try to weigh a plastic shipping pillow on a kitchen scale. Chances are it won’t even register. That shows how little material is used to make it. Just a little bit of plastic packaging can prevent a whole lot of wasted stuff. Less material + less breakage = more sustainability.

So, what should you do with this lightweight packaging after you’ve used it?


Obviously you can collect and reuse the shipping pillows and packing bubbles for multiple purposes. They did their job once—they can do it again. And again!

They’re also great for packing delicate household goods when moving from one place to another. Or for storing fragile things in closets or garages or storage units. (Or popping in my husband’s ear.)


Did you know you can recycle those plastic shipping pillows? And even those sheets of plastic packing bubbles? But… you typically CANNOT recycle them in your curbside bin. Instead, you can take them back to more than 20,000 grocery or retail stores that collect plastic bags and wraps in storefront bins.

You’ve seen those bins, right? Usually the sign says “Recycle Plastic Bags.” But you also can drop your plastic shipping pillows and sheets of packing bubbles in that bin, too. Plus all sorts of other plastic wraps—see how plastic film can be recycled.

So if you’re not going to reuse your shipping pillows, just puncture them to release their air and drop them in the storefront bin to give them another life. And if you’re not going to reuse your packing bubbles, recycle them the same way. (It’s not really necessary to pop all those bubbles before recycling. It’s just a fun way to annoy your family.)

Did I just hear the doorbell? Maybe it’s more shoes…

Next: Another recycled plastic packaging hero.