Plastic gift cards

During 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.

Americans purchase 2 billion gift cards each year, the most requested gift every year from 2006 to 2013. Once the card is redeemed, it’s usually thrown away, adding to the millions of tons of plastics filling our landfills and polluting waterways. Plastic doesn’t biodegrade, instead, it breaks down into microplastics, which are increasingly found in our food, our drinking water, and our bodies.

While PVC is a common type of plastic, you’re unlikely to find a curbside recycling program that will accept this form of plastic. A growing number of retailers have begun using biodegradable paper gift cards, which greatly simplifies 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.

The Challenge of Recycling Cards

PVC gift and credit cards may be accepted at your local transfer station, but they cannot be placed in most curbside recycling program bins. Add your ZIP code to this Earth911 recycling search to see if you have local options.

TerraCycle offers paid mail-in programs for PVC cards. The Plastic Cards Zero Waste Pouch, which is large enough to hold about 50 cards, is $48 and the Plastic Cards Zero Waste Box that can take thousands of cards starts at $167. We recommend getting together with your neighbors or a local business to collect enough cards to make this economically feasible.

Card Recycling Alternatives

If you are without a local recycling option, there are plenty of ways to keep gift cards out of the trash.

  • Some retailers offer the option to reload your gift cards, so you can purchase more credit and “re-gift” the same card to a different friend or family member.
  • Most retailers offer electronic gift cards that can be redeemed via online orders or by showing a code on your phone at the store. This is a great option to consider before purchasing new cards.
  • While not gift cards, most hotels now use PVC cards for room keys. If you return the card when you check out, the hotel can reprogram the card to use for the next guest.

If none of these options is available to you, consider these creative ways to repurpose gift cards, credit cards, and reward cards.

Feature image courtesy of Sarah. This article was originally published on December 16, 2013. It was last updated on January 26, 2023.

By 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.