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Ultimate Guide to Padded and Bubble Mailers

ULTIMATE GUIDE TO PADDED AND BUBBLE MAILERS

A cushioned mailer - a mailer that contains some padding and protection - is a great solution when you need some buffer from the outside elements but do not need a shipping box. These protective mailers strike a balance between being relatively low cost, being protective, and delivering an excellent customer experience.

100% recycled padded mailers
100% Recycled Paper
Curbside Recyclable
5 Stock Sizes
Custom Branding at 500 units
50% recycled bubble mailers
50% Recycled Plastic
Thin Film Recyclable
5 Stock Sizes
Custom Branding at 25,000 units

What are Protective Mailers?

black bubble mailer
printed paper padded mailer
kraft paper padded mailers
recycled bubble mailer in white and green

Protective mailers - bubble mailers, padded mailers, cushioned mailers - are just that, mailers with cushion or padding on the inside. This padding serves two purposes - it offers some protection and it enables the mailer to hold its shape, regardless of what it contains.

For example, suppose you put a small jewelry box or a vial of essential oil in a flat poly mailer or a paper envelope. In that case, it is less protected and more exposed to damage as shippers throw around the mailer because the sides of the mailer will collapse around the shape.

Why is this bad? UPS, FedEx, and USPS sort and ship tons of packages daily, and they do so with a lot of machining and scanning involved in the process. A poorly filled poly mailer with weak or flat spots can get caught in or misread by machinery, leading to errors, delays, damages, or even returns to the sender on the products you ship out.

EcoEnclose offers two protective mailers to keep your fragile items intact during transit.

100% Recycled Paper Padded Mailers | 50% Recycled Poly Bubble Mailers


What Products Ship Well In Protective Mailers?

You can ship many things in padded and bubble mailers. Consider these mailers for:
 
Jewelry | Cosmetics | Essential Oils | Vitamins and Nutraceuticals | Skincare | Books | Accessories | And much more!
 
When assessing whether or not you can ship something in a bubble mailer, consider:

Product Weight:

Is it relatively lightweight? Heavy items like candles or large shampoo bottles ship best in corrugated boxes. But light items like sunglasses, lipstick, or t-shirts do well in bubble mailers.

Product Thickness:

Is it relatively flat? It is hard to fit a bulky item - like a shoebox - in a bubble mailer. For things like this, we recommend shipper boxes or, in some cases, a poly mailer, which is flexible enough to more readily fit and wrap around the bulky item than a protective mailer.

Product Size:

Will it fit in an available cushioned mailer size? If you are shipping a large quilt or a large set of towels, bubble mailers aren’t likely to be big enough. But large and soft items that can fill out a mailer would work well in a poly mailer.

Product Fragility:

Is it very fragile? These "protective" mailers are not designed for highly breakable items. Are you shipping easy-to-break glass vials or glass picture frames, or a high-cost electronic item? Stick with corrugated boxes, which you can pad with void fill, to ensure your item arrives in excellent condition.


What Protective Mailer Options Are Out There?
Which Are Most Eco-Friendly?

There are four basic categories of bubble mailers, and within each, you can find varying levels of “eco-friendliness.” There is no perfect eco-winner when comparing a recycled poly mailer with a recycled paper mailer, and much has to do with your brand, beliefs, and your consumer’s likely recycling habits.

A Summary of Protective Mailer Options

END-OF-LIFE & ECO-RATING
recycled plastic bubble mailer

Bubble Mailers
with 100% Poly Film

End-Of-Life: Thin Film Recyclable

Eco-Rating: High, if made with recycled content and have no foil and metal additions

kraft padded mailer with bubble liner

Bubble Mailers with Paper Exterior and Poly Cushioning

End-Of-Life: Not Recyclable

Eco-Rating: Low; avoid these

recycled paper padded mailer

Padded Mailers with Paper Exterior and Paper Cushioning

End-Of-Life: Curbside Recyclable

Eco-Rating: High, if made with recycled content

biodegradable plastic bag

Bubble Mailers
with 100% Biodegradable Materials

End-Of-Life: Not recyclable, sometimes “industrially compostable” but are detrimental to compost streams

Eco-Rating: Low; avoid these

A Detailed View of Protective Mailer Options

Bubble Mailers with 100% Poly Film

50% recycled plastic bubble mailer

These are made with a poly exterior and a poly interior/bubble layer. Typically they are made with a combination of HDPE #2 and LDPE #4 plastic and (unless they have foil or metalized plastic lining, which a small set does) can be recycled wherever grocery bags are accepted. Currently, most poly bubble mailers have no recycled content and are made with only virgin material.

EcoEnclose is proud to have released a line of bubble mailers with 50% recycled content. These are the most eco-friendly mailers on the market. In addition to their recycled content, they have a dual peel and seal and tear strip for reusability, are 100% recyclable and are Made in America.

Bubble mailers are complex to manufacture, and the construction and sealing process is susceptible to temperature and melting points and highly partial to the purity and consistency of virgin content. It took us a long time to get to this level of recycled content, but we’ve learned a lot. We are moving forward from here, constantly pushing up recycled content levels with each iteration to eventually get to 100% recycled content.

You may have found other recycled bubble mailer options if you’re looking for eco-friendly bubble mailers. We dug into these options as we developed our recycled bubble mailer and learned that their claims could be vague.

If you see a recycled mailer that claims 5%, 10%, and 30% recycled content, it is likely the case that “up to X% of the outer layer of the mailer” is made with recycled content. If this is the case, it would mean that the outer layer has an arbitrary amount of recycled content, based on what the manufacturer had as scrap from their recent production runs. More than likely, the bubble and capping layers (internal) of the bubble mailer are made with only virgin poly. Given this, a mailer stating 30% recycled content would have between 0% to 16% recycled content when looking at the entire mailer, and you wouldn’t know the exact recycled content in the particular bag you purchase get.

When looking for recycled bubble mailers, we recommend asking suppliers for a breakdown of recycled content by layer within their mailers. Confirm that the recycled content is consistent and verified, and consider asking them where their product is manufactured. These questions may sound like overkill, and we know companies aren’t typically trying to make misleading claims! They often take the information they receive from their supply chain at face value without asking hard questions. Because the supply chain for most items (especially packaging) starts in Asia, it is often impossible for them to verify claims. Finally, while the Federal Trade Commission has excellent guidelines for Green Marketing, there aren’t certifying bodies that verify recycled content claims (in the same way there are for things like Certified Organic and Certified Compostable). It is up to consumers to ask these hard questions to ensure sustainability innovation is genuine rather than greenwashing.

Bubble Mailers with Paper Exterior and Poly Cushioning

virgin kraft bubble mailer with kraft exterior

These are very common! Unfortunately, because they are made by gluing a layer of poly bubbles onto kraft paper, they contain two completely different materials and are, therefore, unrecyclable.

Even more unfortunate, they are also often labeled as being recyclable. This information is inaccurate but leads consumers (who see a mailer whose exterior is made with paper) to (understandably) place these in their curbside recycling bin. These mailers are difficult for MRFs to sort out of their materials, leading the mailers to end up in a bale of recycled paper, which causes contamination and frustration for paper repulpers.Finally, these are often made with all virgin inputs.

Padded Mailers with Paper Exterior and Paper Cushioning

paper padded mailer with recycled content

These types of mailers are paper-based through and through. There are a variety of options available today. Our padded mailer features two layers of 100% recycled kraft linerboard, which sandwich a layer of upcycled macerated newsprint. Other paper mailers feature different types of cushioning, such as honeycomb paper and corrugate fluting. A paper mailer made popular by Amazon is now available, in which two layers of paper sandwich a layer of puffed-up plastic. This mailer is not technically “all paper,” but because the amount of plastic used is so minimal, this mailer is curbside recyclable.

Unfortunately, most of these paper-based cushioned mailers are 100% virgin. As we connect with the manufacturers producing these mailer styles, there is little interest in incorporating recycled content into them!

At EcoEnclose, we strongly believe that any brand committed to sustainability AND using non-plastic inputs for packaging must prioritize recycled content.

EcoEnclose carries a line of padded mailers made with 100% recycled content, of which 25% is post-consumer. We adore our padded mailer line. They are made with renewable and recycled material, 100% curbside recyclable, and aesthetically pleasing. Additionally, unlike our poly bubble mailers, they can be custom branded at low quantities of just 500. But while it is easy to assume paper is always better than plastic, that isn’t necessarily true - we encourage brands to be thoughtful and data-driven when deciding between the two.

Biodegradable Bubble Mailers

biodegradable plastic bag

We have shied away from biodegradable mailers as we’ve evolved our product line and thinking related to sustainable packaging because these mailers are made with virgin material.

Their misleading claims of biodegradability can lead consumers to take the wrong actions when deciding how to dispose of their goods responsibly. For more detail on our research and analysis of biodegradable plastic, explore our research: Bioplastics for eCommerce Packaging.


When Are Bubble Mailers Better Than Corrugated Shipping Boxes?
When Are Corrugated Shipping Boxes Better?

Many eCommerce businesses are shifting from sending their goods via boxes to protective mailers.
Why? Mainly due to cost and operational simplicity.
The pros of protective mailers:
  • They are less expensive per unit and are cheaper to ship to your facility and to your customers.
  • They are quicker to pack. Stuff your mailer, peal the adhesive closure, and seal it shut versus fold and tape your box, add your contents, and tape it shut.
The pros of shipping boxes:
  • They offer better presentation. A beautifully branded presentation style box makes the unboxing experience feel like opening a gift.
  • They offer better protection. Boxes create more 3D space and are more robust. Custom inserts or void fill enhance their protection.
  • They are ideal for shipping a variety of contents. Your fulfillment team can use a right sized shipping box for each order.

When Are Protective Mailers Better Than Flat Mailers?
When Are Flat Mailers Better?

By flat mailers, we refer to paper and poly-based mailers with no cushioning. They have no protection, are flimsier, and don’t hold their shape.
The pros of protective mailers:
  • They have the added protection of a poly bubble liner or, like our 100% Recycled Paper Padded Mailers, a layer of mascerated newsprint.
  • They are ideal for shipping items that cannot fill out a flat mailer such as a tub of lipstick or a glasses case.
The pros of flat mailers:
  • They are less expensive per unit and are cheaper to ship to your facility and to your customers.
  • They are significantly thinner, making shipping and storage far more cost and environmentally efficient.

How Do Poly Bubble Mailers Compare With Paper Padded Mailers?

We love and are proud of BOTH of our 100% Recycled Paper Padded Mailers and 50% Recycled Poly Bubble Mailers. However, we recognize that they have functional, environmental, and cost tradeoffs. Here, we lay out factors to consider when comparing these two mailers and which one “wins” across each dimension.

Recycled Content:

Winner: Paper Padded Mailers

EcoEnclose paper padded mailers are made with 100% recycled content, of which 20-25% is post-consumer waste. Our poly bubble mailers are made with 50% recycled content, of which 10% is post-consumer waste.

Padded mailers are a clear winner in this category. That said, achieving 50% recycled content in the bubble mailer has been a long journey and a feat. By choosing our bubble mailers, you help us and the industry invest in continued advancements, leading to more recycled content in this common packaging solution long-term.

End-Of-Life Options:

Winner: Paper Padded Mailers

EcoEnclose poly bubble mailers and paper padded mailers are both recyclable. Padded mailers are accepted by all curbside programs in the US, while bubble mailers are only accepted by a few. If a person’s local curbside programs don’t accept bubble mailers, recipients can deposit them at grocery bag drop-offs, easily accessible to almost every community in the US.

End-consumers can also mail bubble mailers back to EcoEnclose, and we will recycle this film for anyone.

Padded mailers came out ahead in this category because of the ease with which society can recycle them and the bonus that they are compostable, though we recommend recycling instead of composting as the more eco-friendly choice.

Reusability:

Winner: Poly Bubble Mailers

EcoEnclose paper padded mailers and poly bubble mailers can both be reused for things like customer returns or second shipments. Each mailer also has a tear strip so recipients can easily open them.

Our bubble mailers are the winner in this category because they are specifically designed for reuse with a dual peel and seal and clear language on the mailer itself around reusability. For our padded mailers to be reused, they need to be folded over and taped shut.

It is important to note that if our padded mailers and bubble mailers end up in the landfill, then padded paper mailers have a worse end-of-life environmental impact than bubble mailers for two reasons. First, recycled post-consumer paper within padded mailers could leach toxins into a landfill. Second, the paper will degrade more quickly in a landfill than plastic.
 
While we want paper to degrade in a compost operation, we do not want this to occur in a landfill because (depending on if the landfill captures Landfill Gases or not) it leaks methane gas. According to the EPA, methane causes 21 times as much warming as an equivalent mass of carbon dioxide over 100 years. More alarming, the intensity is even more severe in the first 20 years after its release. During that period, methane is 84 times as potent a greenhouse gas as carbon dioxide.

What Is The Eco-Impact Of Poly And Bubble Mailers Across The Rest Of Their Lifecycle?

By rest of the life cycle, we are referring to the eco-impact of the packaging outside of its recycled content and end of life discussed above.

Environmental Impact:

Winner: Poly Bubble Mailers

Our poly bubble mailers have a lower negative environmental impact than our paper padded mailers. The impact of producing and transporting each padded mailer to you generates slightly more carbon emissions (and more carcinogens and ecotoxicity) than each bubble mailer.

When comparing two mailers of equal sizes, padded mailers have more paper and weight than bubble mailers have in plastic. The raw materials extraction, transportation, and manufacturing of paper and plastic (even recycled paper and plastic) require energy, generate emissions, and generate pollution. Because more materials are used in a padded mailer, the analysis shows that they typically have a higher carbon footprint and environmental impact than poly-based counterparts.

Aesthetic and Brand:

Winner: None

Some people love the earthy, natural look of kraft. If that is you, then paper padded mailers will appeal to you. For some, the sleekness of poly bubble mailers wins out.

EcoEnclose paper padded mailers can be custom printed with your design (single color, single side) at relatively low quantities of just 500 units. Custom branded EcoEnclose bubble mailers come in minimum quantities of 25,000 units. Because of this, stock or off-the-shelf EcoEnclose poly bubble mailers come to you with a design that showcases your commitment to the environment and adds something unique and special to the recipient experience.

Weight and Size:

Winner: Poly Bubble Mailers

Poly bubble mailers are lighter and more compact than paper padded mailers. Comparing two of these mailers - an 8.5 x 10.75" bubble mailer size and an 8.5 x 11" padded mailer size:

  • The bubble mailer weighs 0.8 oz and the padded mailer weighs 2.2 oz.
  • A case of bubble mailers holds 100 units and weighs 5 lbs. A case of padded mailers holds 100 units and weighs 20 lbs.
  • A single pallet can hold 8,000 bubble mailers and 2,400 padded mailers.

  • These differences result in improved costs and reduced environmental impact of shipping mailers to your operation, storing them in your warehouse, and then shipping your products out to customers.

    Rigidity:

    Winner: Paper Padded Mailers

    If your package must have padded protection and does not really “bend,” then padded mailers may be the right choice for you. They are sturdier and more rigid than our flexible plastic bubble mailers. That said, our rigid mailers (especially our tab-locking, extra rigid mailers) are our best option for anyone seeking an "unbendable" mailer. However, rigid mailers do not have a cushion at all.

    If rigidity is critical, we recommend our 100% Recycled Rigid Mailers.

    Weather Resistance:

    Winner: Poly Bubble Mailers

    If the ability to withstand any weather condition is critical, then a poly bubble mailer is a superior option because is entirely plastic and, therefore, resistant to all moisture.

    That said, it is scarce that weather conditions pose a challenge for eCommerce packaging, as the majority of shipments are made with paper-based packaging (i.e., corrugated shipping boxes and paper envelopes).

    Pricing:

    Winner: Poly Bubble Mailers

    When comparing equally sized poly bubble mailers and paper padded mailers, bubble mailers will be less expensive due to the costs associated with raw poly versus paper materials and the cost of manufacturing plastics versus paper.


    How Do I Find The Right Size Bubble Mailer?

    product dimensions of ecoenclose bubble  mailers

    End-to-End Product Dimensions

    usable space dimensions of ecoenclose bubble mailer

    Usable Space Dimensions

    Mailers that have a seam around their edge can be described by either their “end-to-end” product dimensions or their “usable space” dimensions. Our poly bubble mailers have this seam, and we name and describes our mailers by their usable space. So our 6.5” x 8.75” poly bubble mailer can safely fit a 6.5” x 8.75” item.

    That is not the case with all bubble mailer providers, and we encourage you to look for usable space dimensions any time you purchase a mailer with a seam.

    It is also important to note that the right to left functional space dimension will decrease if you pack a thick product. For example, a 6.5” x 8.75” magazine will likely fit in our 6.5” x 8.75” poly bubble mailer perfectly. However, if you are packing a 1000-page book, you’ll have less usable space since you’re filling the depth of the mailer out more.

    We recommend laying your items out, measuring their length, height, and depth, and seeking out mailer sizes that meet or exceed these dimensions. In some cases, sizing can be tricky, and no one wants to buy a case of mailers only to find that they don’t work. We recommend ordering Free Samples of the mailers and various sizes you are considering to ensure they work well for your needs before placing an order.