Can I put old credit cards in my recycling bin?
-Bonnie M., Mount Dora, FL
Most credit cards and other wallet cards are made from PVC (number 3 plastic), which is commonly accepted by recycling programs. However, cards these days contain all kinds of technology that interfere with the recycling process. One company, Earthworks Systems, used to collect PVC cards, grind them up, and melt them down to create new, 100-percent recycled cards. But Rodd Gilbert, founder and president of Earthworks Systems, says he is no longer soliciting cards because of contamination problems from holograms, scratch-off material, and embedded chips. Gilbert says he is working on new uses for the processed material from PVC cards, which people continue to send to him.
Contamination problems aside, the first thing you should do is verify whether or not your municipality accepts number 3 plastic, and specifically credit cards, membership cards, or gift cards. If they do, play it safe and cut off any holograms or chips, which should go in the trash. If your city doesn’t accept PVC for recycling, consider finding novel uses for the cards without sensitive information (empty gift cards, for example). A cleaned card can be used as a pastry cutter or a “razor” for hair removal creams, and a guitar pick punch will make quick, colorful use of any plastic card. For credit cards or IDs, the benefits of financial security might outweigh the costs to the environment. To prevent the risk of identity theft, we recommend just cutting up the cards and tossing them in the trash.