Sunday, 4 March 2012

Another Unsung Hero Of The Swap Scene - Bubble Wrap

Seasoned perfume swappers think nothing of shipping perfume many thousands of miles to fellow fumeheads standing by to give them a loving home - or to parcel them up and send them on their way again if they don't appeal... I have written several posts about issues with leaky or otherwise tricky atomisers, and it is self-evident that when choosing receptacles in which to send a swap item, only the most airtight and well-behaved vials need apply. Assuming the container is sound, the next step is to seal it securely with electrical insulation tape, as detailed in my previous "unsung hero" post. There is the screw thread part, the bit where the top fits onto the base, and even the hole in the atomiser mechanism to consider. The conscientious swapper may swathe the decant so comprehensively in tape that it looks like a mummy - or a cowboy - as noted in my post on "bias cut" tape designs.

But there are several more stages to go in the making up of a leakproof parcel. For example, I often place the taped atomisers into polythene bags before swaddling them generously in bubble wrap and placing them in a Jiffy bag, which is itself a padded envelope lined with bubble wrap - whence the US term for these of "bubble mailer".

This "double bubble" approach is perhaps the most common way in which perfumistas wrap their swap items, though some swappers - with standards of presentation as high as those of safety - will go on to wrap the bubble wrapped package in coloured tissue or other styles of gift paper. This has the additional benefit of putting intrusive customs officials off the scent, as it were - on the basis that only the most hardhearted and "Jobsworthy" amongst them are going to rip off such obvious and pristine gift trappings on the offchance that the package may contain a concealed weapon or one of the myriad of other hazardous goods on their hit list.

In my experience though, bubble wrap remains the packaging material of choice, and perfumistas who engage in regular swapping will get through a ton of the stuff in the course of a typical year. Oh okay, maybe not a ton, because admittedly it doesn't weigh very much, but a goodly amount in volume terms, certainly. And what is really handy is that bubble wrap is something you never need to buy - regular top up supplies just miraculously appear pretty much every time you buy an item by mail order.

The best "harvest" of fresh bubble wrap is yielded by larger or heavier items such as electronic goods, though some of these may also come ensconced in rigid polystyrene, which is no good to us fumeheads. That said, their close relative, the polystyrene chip, is a good substitute for bubble wrap, though the chips have an annoying habit of either sticking to your hands because of their static charge, or conversely skittering all over the work surface and/or floor.

And even within the category of bubble wrap proper, there is a qualitative hierarchy, indeed one of the reasons why this post is somewhat delayed is because I was tracking down one or two remaining species, with a view to photographing them.

The award for the most useless type must go to large gauge bubble wrap, which increases the volume of the wrapped item by a factor of 500, and makes it damn near impossible to insert the swap package into an envelope, whether a bubble mailer or not.

The "standard" and most useful type of bubble wrap has smaller blisters that are no more than 3mm in height when fully inflated (I just measured a classic piece, so you can take this figure as pretty accurate). It comes in large sheets that may be cut to size. Ideally, it will not already have any Sellotape on it, for sure as eggs are eggs, once you start tugging that darn tape off, the bubble wrap will distort and tear into wretchedly ragged shapes that are frankly not socially acceptable on the swap scene, even allowing for people's tolerance of a recycled material.

As well as the useless bits you accidentally rip in this way, the average perfume swap package you set about plundering for its bubble wrap will typically come with some small rolled up bits of the stuff enclosing individual atomisers. These should be systematically sniffed before reuse, as they may be impregnated with the smell of the scent in question, and have to be discarded.

At the other end of the spectrum, the Rolls-Royce of bubble wrap formats is the READY-MADE POCKET. If my memory serves me, I recently sent Alnysie's prize draw samples in one of these, and after those colourful mood-enhancing gauze drawstring bags to which I made reference in a recent post, preformed bubble wrap pockets are about as sexy as it gets in the swapper's world.

Well, I say that...I have recently started to notice another new packaging material on the block - or on the roll, rather: it is a distant cousin of the polystyrene chip (and block), but is instead a thin, pliable sheet of polystyrene - opaque, and more or less as durable as bubble wrap at a guess, although it lacks any overt cushioning elements. And recently I received a swap package that was also housed in a preformed pocket of this material. Teecake was the recipient of this specimen when I sent her her giveaway samples, though not before I had photographed my hand modelling it as a glove. : - )

So....question time!

Do you have a favourite style/gauge of bubble wrap?

Have you ever found a use for the large gauge stuff, or does it lurk unnervingly behind the door of a cupboard, occupying a disproportionate amount of space?

When it comes to polystyrene, are you a fan of this new sheeting material, and do you also attract the chips as a magnet gathers iron filings?

Are there perhaps even more aspirational types of protective packaging material out there which I have yet to discover?

Photo of Concealed Weapons School sign from Wikimedia Commons, other photos my own


Cheryl Quimby said...

A woman after my own hear. I am a wrapping fanatic. Not talented--but earnest. I love the Rolls-Royce-ready-made variety, but will do with any small bubbles in a pinch. Now my idea of hell is packing peanuts. Seriously. If I end up there, I know I'll be sentenced to transporting packing peanuts from their boxes to a dust bin all day every day. I can just feel the clingy monsters on my hands as I type. And on breaks, I'll have to stuff down comforters into their cotton button-up covers. Brrr. I shudder to think of it.

Vanessa said...

Hi Cheryl,

Thanks very much for stopping by to tell us of your own protective packaging preferences and "packing peanut" peeves! Now I did correctly infer that that is another name for the pesky clingon polystyrene chips?

And putting duvets into their covers is indeed a hateful task, made slightly easier in my own case by the fact that some of mine have lost half their buttons, which I know better than to replace.

PS Keep up the commendable ambassadorial work!

Cheryl Quimby said...

Vanessa, yes"packing peanuts" is the common term for "polystyrene chips" in regions I've known in the US. Makes them sound so cute and innocent, doesn't it? I feel better already knowing I'm not alone in my struggle with these materials!C.

Cymbaline said...

Fortunately, I have a never-ending supply of bubble-wrap varieties through work. We get deliveries daily and the boxes/innards are available for the taking.

One aspect of wrapping and shipping you didn't touch on is that of perfume sample recipients making use of ALL your wrapping supplies when sending samples back to you. I have a perfume-buddy that is "master-class" in the art of recycling!

flavourfanatic said...

Vanessa, your post made me smile! I have to admit, bubble wrap is not something that's on my mind a lot, but how would the world be without it? Consider the number of broken vials, leaking out in the postal bags, scenting all the wrong letters. Imagine all the bafflement, surprise and false hopes generated when a letter from the tax collector arrives, smelling of Fracas. Or a holiday postcard from granny smells of Agent Procateur (good for you, granny)! :)

Vanessa said...

Hi Cheryl,

Thanks for that confirmation about the packing peanuts. No, you are not alone in your concerns, and if at some future point it feels appropriate to set up a support group for people who are having problems with clingon chips or their general dispersement through the home, I will be sure to invite you to join.

And for the record, the multicoloured chips I have seen appearing lately do not endear themselves to me any more than the regular white or green ones!

Vanessa said...

Hi Cymbaline,

I am pleased to learn that you have good access to bubble wrap through work. I infer you get proper sized sheets and a decent gauge of blister (ie not too big).

: - )

You make a good point about the fact that perfumistas are superb at recycling all forms of packaging materials. I stuck with my theme of bubble wrap here just in case I decide to dedicate another post specifically to boxes, envelopes and padded mailers, which is a possibility...

And as you may know, I have covered the practice of including an obligatory sweet in swap packages (a practice I have got a bit lax at lately, mind!) in one of my earliest posts.

Aha - here it is:

Vanessa said...

Hi flavourfanatic,

I love the topsy turvy picture you paint of a world where accidentally scented bubble wrap goes on to have a second, incongruous life. The idea of Fracas for the tax collector had me chuckling!... : - )

It could be classed as another example of "stealth perfuming" which I describe somewhere in my blog, only this time left to chance rather than being a covert way of converting a fragrant non-responder!

Tara said...

True, it's no good for swap packages but I find the large gauge bubble wrap is good for wrapping boxes of perfume followed by brown paper, when I've sold them on the 'bay. I vote those clingy shreds of polythene the worst packing material - oh the mess!

I too have noticed the rise of the opaque white plasticy sheets but am also doubtful of their shock absorption abilities.

I think people like dee and Undina are no doubt miles ahead of the rest of us with their neat little presentation boxes. They're great for storing decants in after, too.

Fun post!

Vanessa said...

Hi tara,

You have put your finger on one good use for the large gauge bubble wrap, namely wrapping *boxed bottles* of perfume. I have probably gone and put them in another box after that, if I have had one to hand, though brown paper would do the trick too.

And it seems we are both a bit wary of the shock absorbing qualities of the new opaque foam sheeting. : - )

I haven't seen a package of Dee's, but I was graced with a blue box from Undina in a recent swap. In the spirit of reusing everything to which Cymbaline alludes, I sent that box back to the US with Sujaan's giveaway samples!

Undina said...

Vanessa, I so enjoyed reading your packaging posts! Not only because of the content and language you use (love it, as always!) but because of that warm feeling that comes from the "great minds think alike" notion: for a while now I was thinking about writing about it in my Know-How category. Now all I'll need to do will be to collect links to your posts (and maybe add a couple of pictures of Rusty playing with those materials ;)).

I agree with Tara on using bigger bubbles for filling in spaces in bigger boxes.

I do not trust those new pockets as well. It's better than nothing but worse than bubble-wrap.

Vanessa said...

Hi Undina,

I am glad my post struck a chord with you and I would love to read one on this topic in your Know-How category! I am sure that Rusty could be relied upon to deliver some quality action shots - what cat doesn't like playing with string and cardboard boxes, scrumpled up bits of newspaper and the like? Even the non-compliant Charlie Bonkers, who (after some coaxing) sleeps in a furry purpose-bought bed by day, has a favourite cardboard box on which she sleeps at night.

Yes, cats and packaging materials are a perfect fit - even if I couldn't persuade CB to bat a perfume vial or two! And of course Rusty is as easy on the eye in cat terms as PG is in human ones (steering the conversation briefly back to our favourite topic...)