Some Christmas cards can be recycled but others cannot. This will depend on the materials used to make the cards and the type of recycling facilities available in your local area.
You can also re-use the cards yourself, to make decorations, do crafting, or write notes.
If you’ve ever wondered whether you can recycle Christmas cards, or you’re interested in all aspects of more sustainable living, then our simple guide can help.
Learn about which cards can usually be recycled, which ones may sometimes be recycled and those which are almost always non-recyclable.
Let’s get started…
- Are Christmas cards recyclable?
- Which Christmas cards are best for recycling?
- Which Christmas cards cannot be recycled?
- Should you recycle Christmas cards?
- What happens to Christmas cards at the recycling plant?
- What happens to Christmas cards which are thrown in the trash?
- Which bin should I put Christmas cards into?
Are Christmas cards recyclable?
The short answer is sometimes, in some places.
Simple cards which are made from standard card paper and do not have any plastic or metallic coatings can usually be recycled in a regular paper and card recycling facility.
Other cards may have glued fabric, plastic, metallic, or electronic components which can be detached.
Examples might include ribbons, a small circuit with battery and wiring to play music, or a plastic bubble containing a toy or decoration.
Without the plastic, metal or electronic parts, the card can be recycled in a regular facility.
The parts removed from the card may be recycled separately (e.g. batteries) or discarded in the trash if no suitable facility exists for them (e.g. glued polyester ribbon).
Where the plastic or metal components are an integral part of the card and cannot be detached (e.g. glitter), the card cannot be recycled in most normal recycling facilities.
You can check what recycling facilities exist in your area by looking online, asking your local government representatives, or consulting environmental groups in your region.
Which Christmas cards are best for recycling?
The Christmas cards you are most likely to be able to recycle will be the simplest, plainest kind with printed pictures and messaging on ordinary paper card, and no attachments of any sort.
Cards like this can be put straight into the recycling bin or collected and dropped off at the recycling centre.
Which Christmas cards cannot be recycled?
The worst cards for recycling will be those of mixed materials which cannot be easily separated.
Examples include Christmas cards with glitter and plastic coatings which are bonded to the paper and can’t be removed from it.
Should you recycle Christmas cards?
If you want to minimise waste, you can either recycle Christmas cards by sorting them and sending suitable parts to a paper recycling facility, or you can use their materials for other things yourself at home.
Options might include:
- using shiny or glittery cards and ribbons to make decorations for next Christmas or other special occasions,
- ripping off the blank parts of the card to keep for notes, messages and shopping lists,
- using the pictures to make gift tags or collages,
- use the cards for crafting with young children.
If there is no centralized recycling for paper and card in your neighborhood, perhaps you could organize a post-Christmas collection of cards and wrapping paper this year? Collections could be made via a school or business, and taken to the recycling facility in bulk.
What happens to Christmas cards at the recycling plant?
At the recycling plant paper and card is separated into different types and grades before being washed through with soapy water to remove ink and any non-paper components which have found their way into the recycling.
After this, the washed paper is is mixed with water in a large tank to form a wet paper soup called ‘slurry’.
Different materials will then be added to the slurry to create different paper products. This might include newsprint paper, cardboard, printer paper etc..
The slurry mixture is then formed into large thin sheets with giant rollers before being allowed to dry.
The dry paper is rolled up ready for cutting into new paper products.
If too many non-recyclable parts are left in the paper recycling they can clog up the recycling plant and slow down its work while they are removed from the paper slurry.
What happens to Christmas cards which are thrown in the trash?
When cards are discarded in the trash they will usually go to landfill with other rubbish. Their component parts will degrade in landfill at the usual rate.
According to a range of researchers and environmental experts, paper takes 2-6 weeks to decompose in landfill, while cotton fabric can take 5 months, and artificial fabrics can take up to 200 years.
Metals take 50-500 years to break down in landfill conditions while plastics may take anywhere from 20 to 1000 years.
Which bin should I put Christmas cards into?
Plain paper cards should go into the recycling bin.
Cards with detachable non-paper elements should be broken into parts, with the paper going into the recycling bin and the other parts into the trash (or metal, plastic and small electronic recycling if these facilities exist in your area).
Cards made of non-paper materials or from which non-recyclable parts cannot be detached, should be thrown straight into the trash.
Christmas cards are sometimes but not always recyclable. If you want to contribute towards a more sustainable Christmas, you could send out only recyclable cards and encourage others to do the same.
Sending e-cards rather than paper cards is another way to save resources while still sharing season’s greetings with your family, friends and acquaintances.
Wishing you a happy and more sustainable Christmas in 2021!