Is bubble wrap biodegradable?  (7 properties)

This article will discuss the biodegradability status of bubble wrap. Other covered topics would include: 

  • What is bubble wrap?
  • What is bubble wrap made of?
  • What is the environmental impact of bubble wrap?
  • Is bubble wrap biodegradable?
  • FAQs

Is bubble wrap biodegradable?

Bubble wrap is not biodegradable because it is made from a synthetic polymer called polyethylene. Polyethylene may require several years to degrade under natural conditions and hence can not be considered eco-friendly. 

The main purpose of bubble wrap is to be used in the packaging sector to provide cushion to fragile materials. With the rising trend in online shopping, the use of packaging materials such as bubble wrap is also gaining momentum. 

Bubble wrap may offer interesting properties such as being economical, light-weight, durable, sturdy, and transparent. 

What is the biodegradability of bubble wrap?

Biodegradation can be explained by getting an insight into two different terms that include bio and degradation. Bio means life and degradation means breakdown. 

Therefore, it can be said that biodegradation is the breakdown by the action of microbes. These microbes include bacteria, decomposers, and even fungi. 

It is now possible to build a final stance on the biodegradability status of bubble wrap. It can be confirmed that bubble wraps are not biodegradable because they are made from non-biodegradable, synthetic polymers called polyethylene. 

The said material may require several years to degrade under natural conditions and hence can not be considered eco-friendly. 

However, it is possible to recycle bubble wrap. It is one of the best solutions to deal with non-biodegradable waste. 

Recycling is the reusing of used materials that offer many advantages such as better waste management, better resource management, and reduced non-biodegradable waste. 

What is bubble wrap? (7 properties) 

Bubble wrap is a very common consumer product. It is very likely that you will have heard about it once in a while. 

However, have you ever wondered what bubble wrap actually is? What is it made of and what is the primary function of bubble wrap? This section tries to unravel the answers to these questions. 

However, the major target of the article will be to uncover the environmental aspect of bubble wrap with special emphasis on the biodegradability and recycling of bubble wrap. Therefore, let us commence. 

Bubble wrap is regarded as a fairly recent product. It was introduced some 50 years back. It is claimed that the main function of bubble wrap is in the packaging industry. However, this was not the primal function of bubble wrap. 

Initially, bubble wrap was made to be coated on walls to create a sense of artistic aesthetics which did not go quite well. Therefore, it was repurposed to be used in the packaging of materials. 

These days, bubble wrap is extensively used in the packaging sector as a protection and support for fragile items. Bubble wrap is a life and pocket saver. 

The main properties of bubble wrap include: 

  • Economical 
  • Light-weight 
  • Durable
  • Strength
  • Insulation 
  • Transparency 
  • Recyclable 

It is plausible to assume that bubble wrap use skyrocketed after 2020 amid the novel Covid-19 because there was a rising trend in online shopping. This was mainly because people did not want to take the risk of going to shops in person.  

Due to the emergence of Covid-19, online shopping burgeoned and so did the use of bubble wrap. This is the reason why the market of bubble wrap reached the threshold of three billion US Dollars. 

However, the idea is not just about utility. One also needs to factor in the environmental impact of bubble wraps. For this, let us explore what bubble wrap is made of. 

What constitutes bubble wrap?

This section of the article will explain and unravel the materials that are used for the manufacturing of bubble wrap. This is because the materials used to make any product can tell a lot about the product. 

Consider the case of natural and synthetic textiles. Natural textiles are made from naturally occurring, plant-based or animal-based materials such as cotton or jute. Whereas, synthetic fabrics are made from the derivatives of fossil fuels. 

This is the very reason why the environmental impact of the latter is greatly significant as compared to the former. That is why we need to explore the materials that are used to make bubble wraps. 

The primary material that is used to make bubble wrap is polyethylene. Polyethylene is a synthetic polymer which is categorised as plastic. 

When it comes to polymers, there are two variations that exist. One is a natural polymer and the other is an artificial polymer. Natural polymers such as DNA, and RNA are naturally occurring. 

Synthetic polymers do not occur naturally in nature. Rather, these polymers are made by man in the labs at the expense of chemicals and derivatives of fossil fuels. 

Polyethylene is a type of synthetic polymer and therefore, it is plausible to assume that there will be increased and blunt effects of polyethylene on the environment and maybe also on human health. 

The environmental and health risks posed by bubble wraps will be explored in the next section of the article. 

What is the environmental impact of polyethylene (used in bubble wrap)?

Polyethylene is a synthetic polymer which is made in the lab from the derivatives of fossil fuels. It is a type of plastic and hence you may guess that there will be a lot of negative impacts of polyethylene on the environment. 

Polyethylene and the environment 

The fact that polyethylene is made from the derivatives of fossil fuels is an assertive argument to imply that there are negative and annihilative effects of polyethylene on the environment. 

This is mainly because when the derivatives of fossil fuels are employed, there are two things that happen: 

  • Earth non-renewable resources are used
  • The burning of fossil fuels releases harmful gases

When fossil fuels are burnt, there is a release of harmful gases such as carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, methane, SOx, and NOx, to name a few. These gases are termed greenhouse gases (GHG). 

GHGs are responsible for the global phenomenon of global warming. Global warming is marked by the global rise in temperature. When this happens, there are further repercussions as well. These may include: 

  • Rising sea levels
  • Soil erosion
  • Soil infertility
  • Damage to crops
  • Deforestation
  • Unprecedented weather patterns
  • Floods
  • Loss of crops
  • Disruption of habitats
  • Alteration of food chains
  • Destruction of ecosystems 
  • Acid rain 
  • Pollution
  • Decreased tree count 
  • Insect & pest attack 

These are some of the repercussions that are caused by the anomaly of global warming. This is mainly because there is a profuse level of interconnection between various aspects of the Earth. When there is a disruption in one aspect, the effects are reciprocated at other levels as well. 

Polyethylene and waste accumulation 

Another major problem that is caused by the use of non-biodegradable materials such as polyethylene is that it leads to waste accumulation. When this happens, the waste management systems are affected and this is reciprocated in other aspects of Earth as well. 

As per the current situation, it is already quite dense. There are more than 2 billion tons of waste generated every year. This is about 5 kgs of waste made by every person on a daily basis. 

The use of polyethylene as a raw material for bubble wrap will further exacerbate this situation mainly because of the fact that it is a non-biodegradable material. This means that it will remain in the environment for many years and will contribute to the decapacitation of wastewater systems. 

Polyethylene and health effects

The detrimental impacts of polyethylene are not just limited to the environment but are also reciprocated on human health. 

That is why there are a number of health implications that are associated with the use of polyethylene. These effects may include: 

  • Autism 
  • Cancer
  • Infertility
  • Developmental complications
  • Hormone disruptions

These effects are in line with the general trend that is seen in the case of non-biodegradable materials. Non-biodegradable materials due to their synthetic nature are known to cause a lot of health implications because they do not gel well with the natural biological systems. 

Various forms of cancer are associated with the use and consumption of non-biodegradable materials. Children are greatly affected by the prevalence of the said materials. Also, impacts such as neuro complications, hormone disruptions, and behavioural anomalies are repeatedly cited in the literature. 

Conclusion

It is concluded that bubble wrap is not biodegradable because it is made from a synthetic polymer called polyethylene. Polyethylene may require several years to degrade under natural conditions and hence can not be considered eco-friendly. 

The main purpose of bubble wrap is to be used in the packaging sector to provide cushion to fragile materials. With the rising trend in online shopping, the use of packaging materials such as bubble wrap is also gaining momentum. 

Bubble wrap may offer interesting properties such as being economical, light-weight, durable, sturdy, and transparent. 

Frequently Asked Questions: Is bubble wrap biodegradable?

What materials are used to make bubble wrap?

Bubble wrap is made from a synthetic polymer called polyethylene. 

Can bubble wrap be composted?

No, it can not be composted because it has no organic content in it. 

References

  • Malone, K. (2007). The bubble‐wrap generation: children growing up in walled gardens. Environmental Education Research, 13(4), 513-527.
  • Isaia, M., Bona, F., & Badino, G. (2006). Comparison of polyethylene bubble wrap and corrugated cardboard traps for sampling tree-inhabiting spiders. Environmental Entomology, 35(6), 1654-1660.
  • Koch, J., Frommeyer, B., & Schewe, G. (2020). Online shopping motives during the COVID-19 pandemic—lessons from the crisis. Sustainability, 12(24), 10247.
  • Sharma, A., & Jhamb, D. (2020). Changing consumer behaviours towards the online shopping-an impact of Covid 19. Academy of Marketing Studies Journal, 24(3), 1-10.
  • Aziegbe, F. I. (2007). Seasonality and environmental impact status of polyethylene (cellophane) generation and disposal in Benin City, Nigeria. Journal of Human Ecology, 22(2), 141-147.
  • Colapicchioni, V., Mosca, S., Guerriero, E., Cerasa, M., Khalid, A., Perilli, M., & Rotatori, M. (2020). Environmental impact of co-combustion of polyethylene wastes in a rice husk fueled plant: Evaluation of organic micropollutants and PM emissions. Science of the total environment, 716, 135354.

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