Sending delicate or fragile items through the post was for years, a matter of protecting your precious piece in newspaper, shredded paper or those annoying Styrofoam chips that burst out of the box at the recipient’s home making it look as if there’s been an airstrike on a beanbag, and creating a large (and expensive to send) parcel. Even the smallest object couldn’t be trusted in an ordinary envelope. The market was crying out something that catered for that vital middle ground between an ordinary letter and a parcel.

Founded in 1896, Jiffy was originally a company making excelsior (wood wool) products, but they branched out into padded shipping envelopes in the mid-1960s. The original Jiffy bags were made of a paper outer, an inner layer of thinner paper and shredded used newsprint sandwiched in between to provide the protective padding. They were the first company to manufacture this type of product, and Sealed Air’s use of the new plastic bubble technology for packaging was largely inspired by the Jiffy product. Sealed Air acquired Jiffy in 1987, and nearly all Jiffy Bags now use the bubble technology rather than the more old-fashioned newsprint padding.

Bubble wrap is well known to everyone; there’s even psychological studies examining why people like to ‘pop’ the plastic bubbles ? anything to get a grant. Bubble wrap is a pliable transparent plastic material commonly used for packing fragile items. Regularly spaced, protruding air-filled hemispheres provide cushioning for precious or breakable items, making its application in the postal system an obvious one.

Bubble Wrap was created by two engineers, Alfred Fielding and Marc Chavannes, in 1957. Like many innovations, it was accidental. The two were trying to create a textured plastic wallpaper with paper backing that could be easily cleaned. The resulting product is the bubble wrap we all know and love to pop today. The protective properties of air is far greater when under pressure (as the air is in the wrap, hence the pop) and the bubble wrap in Jiffy Bags meant that one layer of paper and the messy shredded newsprint padding could be dispensed with, making the envelopes both stronger and lighter.

The rugged nature and excellent level of protection afforded by the use of bubble wrap has made the padded envelope a vital part of modern life. The only drawback with Jiffy Bags lined with bubble wrap is that they are not the most environmentally friendly type of envelope. Although the paper part of the envelope can be extracted and recycled, the bubble wrap is another matter and most bubble wrap padded envelopes finish life in a landfill site. If you’re really serious about your green credentials, there are manufacturers who still use the modern version of the newsprint-padded envelope which, as all the components are biodegradable, is a more eco-friendly choice.

Padded envelopes have made a big difference to security as well. The envelope’s padding acts as not only a cushion to the contents inside, but protects them from prying fingers as well. It is extremely difficult to judge what the contents of a padded envelope are, which gives them an added layer of protection. Jiffy Bags have become an office staple, and are even fairly reusable if you’re careful when peeling the address label off. That’s not something a business concerned with their image would want to do, but there’s no doubt that the customers receiving their products in a padded envelope have that option and many use it. Produced in a wide range of sizes, they are a cheap and easy answer to packaging and sending out fragile or delicate items and deserve a place in every stationary cupboard.

Sending items through the post safely in padded envelopes is something done by thousands of businesses every day. There are now more environmentally friendly versions too according to Mark Bartley in this review.

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