Can Credit Cards be Recycled?

Female hand cutting or shredding a gold credit card with a black shredder isolated with copy space on white background.

If you are eco-conscious and have had a credit, debit, or gift card expire recently, you may be wondering if you can recycle the plastic. The simple answer is yes, but in most areas, you cannot simply toss it into your curbside recycling bin.

Credit cards are made out of polyvinyl chloride (PVC), which is a plastic resin. Experts believe more than 75 million pounds of PVC material from plastic cards are being thrown away each year. This is, in part, due to the fact the PVC materials are not as easy for consumers to recycle as PET materials, which is the plastic found in water bottles.

Some cities, including Los Angeles, do allow residents to put PVC cards into their curbside recycling bin. While this may be a good option for recycling a gift card, as that card will not contain any person information, it is not a good idea for disposing of your debit or credit card. Whenever you dispose of a card that carries identifying information, such as your name, address, or credit card number, you should shred the card so it cannot be put back together by thieves who could then steal your financial information. The catch-22 is that once the card is cut up, it cannot be recycled.

When you cannot use curbside recycling for a PVC card, there are a few ways to prevent them from entering a landfill. First, you can visit Earth911 to see if there is a drop-off area in your neighborhood that accepts cut-up PVC cards. The site also tells you where to recycle other non-traditional items.

Another option is to mail your card to Earthworks System. Earthworks will chop up and melt your card into recycled plastic that can be used in new cards. You will still want to shred your card before you send it to Earthworks, and there are a few cards that Earthworks will not take. If your card has holograms, scratch-off materials, or embedded chips, it can contaminate the recycled plastic, so these are unusable. If you are unsure as to whether Earthworks can take your card, simply contact them via their website.

Some retailers, such as Target, Walmart, and Whole Foods, have also started using biodegradable gift cards. While they may not be a good addition to your compost pile, they will eventually decompose, so you can dig a hole in your yard and bury them. Thus, if you are purchasing a gift card, make sure you ask the cashier if there are biodegradable options available. If you are requesting a new debit or credit card, you can also ask your issuer if they have a biodegradable options. Some issuers, such as Discover, offer eco-friendly options.

Finally, if you are purchasing a gift card, consider buying a reloadable one. When you purchase a reloadable gift card, the recipient can put more money on the card, which means they could then gift it to someone else or even continue to use it themselves. If the card can be reused, it means it will not end up in a landfill.