Wrapped Up: Recycling Bubble Wrap

So you’ve recently Etsy-ed or Amazoned yourself into a purchase, necessary or not, and you’re eagerly anticipating its arrival. Maybe it’s a book, or earrings, or a picture frame. Whatever it is, you stop home for lunch and thud, there it sits, smiling up at you like Christmas. You dig through miles of bubble wrap and enough packing peanuts to ship a glass building and, at last, you’ve won— it’s in your hands. But the victory is short lived. In the wake of your childlike elation, the floor is a disaster zone. You only have an hour lunch and your better half will kill you if they come home to this. What do you do? You do what everyone does— scoop it all back into the box it came in and, on your way out, dump it in the recycling bin. After all, it’s just paper and plastic, right? Done and done.

Well, not exactly. Even the most environmentally conscious residents are not aware of the restrictions Kent County places on recycling packaging materials. For questions and information of this exact nature, Recyclekent.org is a great resource, and there, under the heading #1 through #7 plastics, “styrofoam or any type of foam (cups, plates, packing peanuts, packing materials, insulation)” is “NOT accepted.” They capitalize NOT just to drive the point home. Why? Simply put, it’s an issue of cost effectiveness. Most plastics are recyclable, but the market for bubble wrap and packaging materials is too weak. Collection of these materials occurs in such small quantities that most centers lose money on accepting it, so they don’t. Thus, you’ve tossed the whole lot into the publicly provided bin and only created more work for someone else while failing to conserve the environment.

Knowledge is power, so what’s the next step? If you’re thinking there has to be at least a few environmentally friendly ways to get rid of packaging materials, you’re right. The first option is perhaps the most insultingly obvious:  simply reuse them. Whether for your own shipping needs, or by repurposing them in art and home decor projects, the end result is anti-landfill and reusing is always better than recycling.

However, if they must go, there are some resources available. Most shipping stores (e.g. FedEx, UPS, etc.) will be happy to take them. It saves them money, standing the cost effective issue on its head. Lastly, for recycling resources, the pickings are few and far between, but Team Industries in Kentwood will take some post-consumer stamped plastics and styrofoam packing peanuts, as well will a few grocery stores; however, bubble wrap is often not accepted. Therefore, shipping stores are the best, all-inclusive, one-stop-drop for repurposing all your packaging materials.

A brief and very important note on prepping the materials, specifically bubble wrap— if you happen upon a store or company that will accept it, they require you pop or slit all the bubbles out of courtesy and for saving space. Who doesn’t want to spend five or ten minutes relieving the day’s stress anyway? However, UPS stores prefer it clean and air-filled. Here is a link to the UPS Store Locator.

For questions regarding recycling materials by type and location, earth911.com is also a fantastic resource.

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