6 May 2015

Plastic cards: what to do with old bank cards and other plastic cards

I take a look inside my wallet to see if bank cards, licences cards and gift cards can be recycled in Australia and if not, what is there to do with them.


Plastic cards: what to do with old bank cards and other plastic cards

The last six months my wallet has seen plastic cards move out of my wallet and others have moved in. I have replaced my NSW state licence with a Victorian one, applied for a library card and removed a sleuth of old cards from past years hiding in various pockets. And I announced recently that I would be switching banks and superannuation funds where no doubt I will receive two new cards.

Some of you would have read a previous blog post about my attempt to get a library membership without a card. It was a failure. need a plastic card to drive a car or enjoy the ease of having access to my money without needing to carry it with me. It is pretty hard to be card less these days. Unless of course I move out to the bush...

In the past I would have chopped up any old cards and tossed them into the trash. I have never recycled any or knew you could!

I contacted my old bank to see if they offer a recycling program for old cards but was told that while they do not have one in place they were looking into it. And VicRoads have yet to get back to me about recycling old licence cards.

Plastic cards: what to do with old bank cards and other plastic cards

The cards are made of varying types of plastic, mostly polyvinyl chloride known commonly as PVC. While PVC is claimed to be one of the more harmful of all the plastics it can be recycled over and over without the need to add more materials in the process.

Depending on the card they can also contain lamination, microchips, magnetic stripe application, signature panels, screen metallic, pearl and glitter printing, foil stamping, holograms. Made How have a detailed description on the design and manufacture of plastic cards.

There is no information to  indicate what the cards are made of. If there is no information about materials or details about disposable procedures I'm stumbling in the dark to find a solution. For an item that features heavily in most Australians lives we should be encouraged to recycle them.

My first point of call was the National Recycling Hotline (1300 733 712). Their answer was simply that any plastic cards could not go into household recycling bins. There are two reasons why:
  1. Due to size and weight the cards could easily end up in the paper stream damaging the paper being recycled and harming machines.
  2. The cards do not have easy to identify indicators that would make it easy for the cards to be sorted into the different plastic streams quickly.
The only way around this would be if a large group of cards went into the kerbside recycling bins and could be picked out and sorted manually. And by large group I mean the thickness of a brick. I don't have that and really cannot imagine any of my neighbors accumulating that in their lifetime.

I have other cards like gift cards, an old library card, yoga membership card and customer loyalty cards. And none of the the companies I have contacted could provide me with the information I needed to know if recycling is an option.

In recent years bioplastics popularity has surged and more companies are getting on board. And why wouldn't they? Offering gift cards or customer loyalty cards made of biodegradable material is an easy way to add a green tick in the environmentalists eyes. But without detailed instructions on how to dispose of your bioplastic card there is a chance it will end up going into a kerbside recycling bin due to the word bio having an affiliation with being eco. And I explained before that unless they are placed in a recycling bin in large quantities the cards, bio or not, will likely end up in the paper stream. Communication is key - the responsibly cannot fall completely on the consumer and this is an issue way beyond the cards in my wallet.

With the knowledge that most cards are made of PVC plastics (which is vinyl) I decided to contact the Vinyl Council of Australia hoping they could assist me (seeing how the card providers were without a clue what to do!). The Vinyl Council of Australia were particularly helpful. They admitted too having similar frustrations there was not a company that could take back plastic cards. Ideally it is up to the companies that passed them onto me. Vinyl Council of Australia did indicate they are working to put together a country wide recovery scheme that would work with banks, major retail stores and other card providers. They see the environmental and economic potential to collect cards here in Australia encouraging the recovery of materials that will allow for new cards to be made locally rather than import cards from overseas that ultimately end up in landfill. I asked them to let me know when this will be available - so watch this space.


So, I have not found a solution.

In the US there is a company called Earthworks where you can mail your cards. They grind the plastic cards up and reuse the plastic for new cards. The same idea behind Vinyl Council of Australia's plans.

Right now the Earthworks website is under construction so I could not email them to double check what cards they do take.

Another option is to up-cycle them which looks like the only option I have right now. Our laundry door does not stay open on its own. I am thinking of wrapping the cards in fabric and using them as a door stop until I find somewhere to recycle them.

If you have any information for recycling cards in Australia put it into the comments below or send an email to the Vinyl Council of Australia.
  1. Gosh we live in a frustrating world! I'm old enough to remember when there weren't many membership cards, and those that existed were cardboard. We managed just fine. I guess another tactic could be to approach companies we might want to hold a card with (aside from banks) and suggest that since everything is electronic surely the card is superfluous if one can give a phone number, say, in order to be found in the system?

    Recycling cards just doesn't make me feel any better, not having them in the first place would make me soooo happy!

    Madeleine.x

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    1. If i could be done away with cards I would too Madeleine. It's hard to imagine if they will be around too much longer with the way technology is going.

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  2. I wonder if libraries and other organisations where one is a 'member' and needs to show proof of membership (such as gyms, video stores, etc) could offer QR cards, which could be scanned from our mobile phones (similar to that which many airlines now offer for boarding passes)? It would be a great replacement for plastic cards from the environmental and clutter perspectives. It could also surely work for loyalty based shopper/service cards too - although my local second hand bookshop and coffee shop do offer paper based cards.

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    1. Oops, I meant QR codes not QR cards :)

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    2. There is this thing called Rewardle. I have it on my phone and it works with a QR code. You do need a plastic card to set it up though. But only one for the whole app, and many companies use it. They're hoping for it to be a widespread thing. So far, I've used it to gain loyalty points for two separate companies (a burger joint and a cafe/bakery), with only the one plastic card used. I hope to add plenty more retailers to the list (I know of at least one other cafe with Rewardle, but I'm yet to use it).

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    3. I can only imagine it going in this direction Kimbo. Someone somewhere i bet is working on this.

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    4. Razberri, that sounds like a good system. Less waste in terms of plastic cards.

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  3. Thanks for the tip on Earthworks! Great to know!

    Also, small world, but I kinda freaked out at one of your latest Instagram pictures where you posted your Razorback sweatshirt. If I had an Instagram account I would have immediately commented. I grew up in Arkansas, too, but currently reside in New York. I lived there for just about 20 years. Great to talk to another Arkansan!

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    1. I wear that Razorback sweatshirt non stop in winter. I am heading back there for a visit with family in a couple of months. I cannot wait :)

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  4. I've been having this frustration too. I never thought that getting married would impact my waste so much. Some cards I've had replaced up to four times, because it would take three goes for the bank to get the spelling of my name right (how hard is it?), despite me explicitly asking for a replacement card NOT to be sent, and then it would expire a month later. gah!
    What about Terracycle? They are trying to make a name for themselves as recyclers of difficult waste. Perhaps they could take on this challenge?

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    1. That sounds like a pain Razberri. I should ask TerraCycle about this thanks for the suggestion. Though the cards are working really well to keep the door open :)

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  5. As far as I know, in the Netherlands and Sweden plastic cards are not recycled either. They end up in incinerators. Such a waste. I have heard that some banks take the cards back though.

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    1. I suppose many people are worried about identity theft and the like, so maybe most banks think individuals would prefer incinerating rather than recycling.

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  6. I just did the same thing and called the hotline to find out what to do with cards.. they told me the same thing. Google then led me to your blog! Have you found any solutions to date?

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    1. No solution yet Jaclyn. I have kept them for the time being until a solution is in place. Right now i have upcycled them with some material to act as a door stop in our laundry. Wrapped in material no body knows what they are...

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  7. Anonymous10/15/2015

    Have you tried asking the card manufacturers such as G&D and Gemalto?

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    1. I asked my bank who manufactured the cards but was not told who it was. I will have a look into these companies and see what I can find out. Thanks for the tip.

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    2. Anonymous10/15/2015

      Usually if you look on the back in the small print somewhere it should say something like:
      Manufacturer Name - 99999999(lot/serial number) - 01/15(production date).
      GD puts their logo instead which kind of looks like a pill with a cross in it.

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    3. I had a look and found the info on 3/4 of the cards. Thanks for being so helpful. I really appreciate you sharing your knowledge.

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  8. Anonymous10/28/2015

    Another way to recycle plastic cards for the guitar players out there:
    http://www.pickpunch.com/info.html

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    1. That is a awesome idea! Thank you for sharing :)

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  9. Anonymous5/04/2016

    I kept a whole lot of cards for ages waiting for some opportunity for recycling/reuse. In the end I created an art piece called house of cards for our local councils sustainability week recycled art show, my premise being that our society's foundations of consumerism was a house of cards on the brink of collapse...on a positive note: after refusing membership several times to Petstocks loyalty program where I buy my (plastic packaged :( )chook food they said I could join without a plastic card by using my phone number.

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    1. I love that idea for an art piece. A clever way to get people talking. Good on Petstocks for doing that. My fiance recently signed up for a membership and requested no plastic card, instead he uses his phone number too. More places should offer this.

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  10. Anonymous6/15/2016

    In regards to reuse, my husband has a plectrum/pick punch that turns plastic cards into guitar picks.

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    1. That is the perfect reuse of a plastic card :)

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  11. Anonymous7/17/2016

    Enjoyed the comments. I was actually looking to see if people collected these silly plastic cards, as so many people collect weird and wonderful things! I like the idea of guitar picks. Mahbe there are other ways to put them to good use?

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    1. I have found ways to upcycle some of mine in small projects around the house. I keep my eyes out for cool projects to pass on. Feel free to post any ideas you find :)

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  12. Hi there!

    I have been looking for AGES about where I could recycle plastic cards and looking just now, found you first and then, I discovered this from Moreland City Council (in Melbourne):

    Plastic gift cards and store loyalty cards can be recycled by posting them to:

    Gram Destruction
    Factory 4/46 Allied Drive
    Tullamarine VIC 3043

    Visit Gram Destruction for more information on other products accepted for recycling.

    So I've come back to let you know!

    Cheers!

    Emma.

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    1. Hi Emma, I tried calling and email Gram Destruction when I was researching for this post and had no reply. I will re investigate though to see if they do exist. If not, I'll let Moreland City Council know.

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  13. Their website says they recycle cd's and dvd's but no mention of gift cards/store/bank cards. I would be interested to know if they do accept these items.

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    1. Are you referring to Gram Destruction Nicky?

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    2. I've just contacted Gram Destruction and they confirmed they accept plastic cards for recycling. You can post them in

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