The origin of the bubble wrap

While it may give you endless hours of fun, bubble wrap as a packaging material is best replaced. Find out why.

December 09, 2022 10:16 am | Updated 10:16 am IST

While bubble wrap is a popular packaging material, it is not eco-friendly.

While bubble wrap is a popular packaging material, it is not eco-friendly. | Photo Credit: Flickr

Pop till you drop! Or till there is nothing left to pop! Typically this what happens once a package covered with Bubble wrap is unpacked. In earlier times, bubble wrap was a rare and much sought after. Today, with online shopping being common, it probably comes home every day.

Bubble wrap’s origin makes for quite a bizarre story. In 1957, inventors Alfred Fielding and Marc Chavannes put two pieces of a plastic shower curtain through a heat-sealing machine during the experiments to create a “textured wallpaper”. What they got instead was a sheet of plastic film with trapped air bubbles. Later, when one of them was flying into an airport, he noticed that the fluffy clouds seemed to cushion the planes descent. So they went back to working on the product. While their first breakthrough came with packaging of transistors, it was IBM that got bubble wrap to take off.

A cultural icon

A failed wallpaper became a revolutionary packaging material.

A failed wallpaper became a revolutionary packaging material. | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

In 1959, the computer giant introduced 1401, one of the founding models of today’s computers and needed something to protect the delicate device during shipping. Enter Bubble Wrap. A failed wallpaper became a revolutionary packaging material. Not only that, it also became a cultural icon, being flaunted on the ramp in fashion shows, displayed in highbrow art museums and even worn as a wedding dress. In fact, the U.S. celebrates National Bubble Wrap Appreciation Day on the last Monday of January every year.

But not all was hunky dory. After all, packaging material also needs to be stored before it is used. The bubbles in bubble wrap were taking up too much space. So Sealed Air, the company that manufactures bubble wrap, introduced iBubble Wrap (I stands for inflated). A pump is sold separately so that the packer can inflate the columns of bubbles before using it. But the bubbles on this one don’t go pop. If you press on a bubble, the air just shifts, as each column is connected.

The bu

The bu | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Despite all the fans bubble wrap has, it is a material that has to be replaced. Made of plastic, it is one of the least eco-friendly packaging materials being extremely difficult to recycle. In fact, the European Union has said a firm ‘No’ to bubble wrap. There are many zero-waste and biodegradable packaging solutions today that are not only more environmentally friendly in their after life but are also made of recycled materials.

So what about fans of bubble popping? There are plenty of apps to indulge in your favourite past time. As one of them says, “No objective, just infinite bubble wrap popping!”

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