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Are Gift Cards Recyclable?

Every holiday season, you're bound to end up with a few gift cards.  The gift card market is a multi-billion dollar industry, with sales expected to climb to $52.2 billion by 2012!  That's a lot of gift cards that need to be disposed of properly.  

Unfortunately, gift cards are often made of PVC.  PVC is toxic to produce and seldom accepted through curbside recycling plans.  Because of this, I was surprised to see gift cards listed as the greenest gift choice in Country Homes Magazine.  

Some retailers do use bioplastics to make their gift cards.  I have read that Target, Walmart, REI, and Borders use bioplastic gift cards. These gift cards will decompose in a compost bin over the course of a few months.   (Check out a photo of a decomposing Target gift card!)  

Amazon has a gift certificate option where you can either email a gift certificate to somebody or print the gift certificate out on plain old paper -- much easier to recycle!  You can also do e-gift cards through iTunes and Starbucks.  No printing necessary.  

Meanwhile, the rest will usually just sit in a landfill somewhere.  Once the card is depleted, cashiers might just toss it in with the regular trash.  You can ask for it back and recycle it through Earthworks.   The program began in 2008 and has been highly successful.  You can mail used gift cards to them and they will be reprinted into new gift cards.  

When giving gift cards as presents, look for bioplastics, Earthworks gift cards, give e-gift cards, or print out Amazon gift certificates on recycled paper.  Otherwise, encourage the gift recipient to send the used gift card to Earthworks!  When receiving gift cards, if they aren't bioplastic or Earthworks, remember to ask the cashier for it back so you can recycle.

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This post originally appeared on Keen For Green on 12/13/10.