Q: I was cleaning out my wallet the other day, and I found a pile of used plastic gift cards. Can I recycle them? — Paul, MN

A: The short answer is yes, but here's a bit more info.

It seems like every major retailer offers gift cards these days, so it's not surprising that you've accumulated several of them. While the few you have in your wallet might not seem like much of a burden for a landfill, a whopping 75 million pounds of polyvinyl chloride (PVC, a toxic substance) material from plastic cards enters America's waste stream every year.

Recently, several companies have made strides to get all that PVC out of landfills. In July 2007, Target began using bioplastic gift cards made with a corn-based material called Mirel, made by Metabolix. The substance, which all 1,600 Target locations began using for cards last December, will biodegrade in a regular compost bin. Other retailers, including REI, Borders and Walmart, use biodegradable, corn-based gift cards made by Nature Works.

If your cards aren't biodegradable though, don't fret. You can mail them to Earthworks System, a PVC recycling company that began accepting gift cards for recycling last January. The main goal is to have retailers send in cards in large quantities, but individuals can mail them in, too, says Rodd Gilbert, Earthworks' president and CEO. The company grinds up old cards (they take credit cards, video store cards and driver's licenses as well as gift cards) and crafts them into PVC sheets used to make new plastic cards.

So just pop your old plastic cards in an envelope and send them to:

Earthworks System, LLC
33200 Bainbridge Road, Suite E
Solon, OH 44139

Gilbert also suggests that you ask stores to start recycling their gift cards, instead of tossing them in the trash behind the counter when they're tapped.

And lastly, if you've received a gift card to a store whose merchandise just doesn't jive with your style, consider selling or trading it on Cardavenue, Plastic Jungle or Swapagift.com.

Story by Alisa Opar. This article originally appeared in Plenty in July 2008. The story was added to MNN.com in April 2010.

Copyright Environ Press 2008

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