Taking the air (and fun) out of Bubble Wrap?

Bubble Wrap
Source: Sealed Air

There are two types of people when it comes to box openers: those who open a box for the goods, and those who open boxes for the bubble wrap. Even the former soon after morph into the latter, popping away on the whoopee cushion of the packaging world.

But Sealed Air, the company that's been behind the proverbial packaging powerhouse that is Bubble Wrap since the 60s, is revamping its signature product into something that The Wall Street Journal first reported would no longer pop.

Deflating news for box openers everywhere. But when CNBC reached out to Sealed Air to clarify the move to create iBubble Wrap, featuring new columns of connected air bubbles, hope was restored.

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"To say it's not poppable is untrue," Sealed Air's Ken Aurichio said. "If you block off the air column you can still pop them, it's more difficult but not impossible. If you apply enough pressure it can be done."

But the move has larger implications than just poppability, as Sealed Air seeks to boost Bubble Wrap's profitability and sales in what market analytics firm Freedonia Group calls a $20 billion shipping materials industry.

"It's cheaper for storage space and cheaper to ship in and ship out," Aurichio said. "And it cuts down on environmental factors, shipping at about a tenth the size means putting less trucks on the road to move it around."

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All the benefits are byproducts of allowing shippers to inflate the iBubble Wrap onsite, instead of having it shipped to them pre-inflated. It's a technology similarly featured for years in Sealed Air's $5,000 machines that produce air pillows for big shippers like Amazon.

Though a change like that could impact efficiency, heavy-volume shippers stand to enjoy the cost savings, according to Dr. Susan Selke, department head of Michigan State's School of Packaging, which has been addressing shipping concerns since analyzing wooden shipping crates in 1952.

"High-volume shippers use air pillows because they use less plastic and more air," she said. "But similarly here you're cutting down on transportation costs, energy use, and environmental concerns seen with packing peanuts."

To the credit of the packing peanut industry, however, trade groups like the EPS Industry Alliance have helped mitigate those concerns- even offering a 24-hour "Peanut Hotline" where consumers can call to receive the closest location to recycle their packing peanuts.

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And while Freedonia Group research reveals packing peanuts still account for double the shipping material volume around the globe, they aren't growing as fast as air pillows and bubble wrapping.

Sealed Air hopes the new iBubble Wrap invention will continue that phenomenon, but the company insists the previous separate bubble version will still exist.

"We will continue to produce the traditional Bubble Wrap people know and love for many years to come," Aurichio said. "There will always be a market for Bubble Wrap."