Recycling Mystery: Gift Cards


As we enter the holiday season, you’ll likely be giving and receiving loads of gift cards for your favorite shops, restaurants and online retail destinations, but can these cards be recycled when the money is gone?

Tossing a single gift card in the trash may not seem like a big deal, but these small bits of polyvinyl chloride (commonly known as PVC, the plastic resin used to make gift cards and other household items like CD cases) can really add up.

More than 75 million pounds of PVC material from plastic cards enters the waste stream each year — underscoring the importance of disposing of your old cards responsibly.

PVC is infinitely recyclable, but few curbside programs accept this form of plastic — meaning it is often tossed in the trash. While you can’t put old PVC gift cards in your curbside bin, you can still prevent them from heading to the landfill. A growing number of retailers have also begun using biodegradable gift cards, simplifying the disposal process.

Read on to learn more about recycling PVC cards and disposing of biodegradable cards responsibly, and celebrate a happy holiday for you and the planet.

Recycling PVC gift cards

Using a mail-back program is likely the easiest way to recycle your old PVC gift cards, but a recycler in your area may also accept them.

Check out Earth911’s recycling directory first to see if a drop-off point in your neighborhood may be more convenient (and less carbon intensive).

If you can’t find a recycler near you, Earthworks System accepts all forms of plastic cards — including gift cards and retired credit cards — through a mail-back recycling program.

The Cleveland-based recycler will accept your old cards for free, chop them up and melt them down into a sheet of recycled PVC — with no chemicals or extra plastic added.

Manufacturers then purchase these sheets to create new recycled gift cards — providing an easy disposal solution for consumers and closing the loop on planet-friendly gift cards for a new round of purchases.

Disposing of biodegradable gift cards

A growing number of retailers are beginning to offer plant-based biodegradable gift cards as an alternative to PVC plastic.

Target switched to biodegradable gift cards back in 2007, while Whole Foods Market rolled out a line of cards made from paper pulp last year. Other top names, including Aveda, Chipotle, LL Bean and Walmart, use biodegradable corn-based cards made by Nature Works LLC.

While we wouldn’t suggest tossing these cards on an organic compost pile, they will naturally decompose under the right conditions. Try the standard “dig a hole and bury it” approach to easily dispose of your biodegradable cards. Simply dig a small hole anywhere in your yard, place the cards inside and cover them for footprint-free disposal that won’t contaminate your compost.

Reduce Holiday Waste: 11 Low-Waste Gift Wrapping Alternatives to Buy or DIY

Feature image courtesy of Sarah

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Mary Mazzoni

Mary Mazzoni

Mary is a lifelong vegetarian and enjoys outdoor activities like hiking, biking and relaxing in the park. When she’s not outside, she’s probably watching baseball. She is a former assistant editor for Earth911.
Mary Mazzoni