Can you recycle playing cards? It depends…

  • Date: May 14, 2022

If you are anything like me, you will have accumulated many packs of playing cards over the years – oblivious to where they even came from. Or if you are a regular player, you may have a few decks that are dog-eared and past their best.  With the world fast becoming obsessed with becoming ‘greener’ you may wonder the best way to get dispose of them in an environmentally friendly way. Can you recycle playing cards? It does depend largely on the brand. The plastic-coated variety are non-recyclable, but that does not mean they can’t be reused in different ways. However, some brands have really embraced eco-friendly practices with non-toxic, recyclable cards.

What are playing cards made of?

You can get playing cards made out all sorts these days, from carbon fiber to wood, however most playing cards are made from paper/thin cardboard. It is now common for these paper cards to have a plastic coating, increasing durability and longevity. Some cards are even made fully from plastic, minus the paper – no doubt great for a card game in the rain, not so much for the environment.

So, can you recycle playing cards?

Playing cards that are not coated in plastic can, generally, be recycled. Plastic coated cards are not suitable for recycling. Although, as always, check with your local recycling center – rules vary from region to region and country to country. Unfortunately, the plastic sheen that does so well to protect your cards is what makes them non-recyclable in most centers. But this does not mean they are destined for landfill, yet although they will without-doubt make it there eventually, you can redirect them for now by giving them away or partaking in some crafts. But if you don’t want to do that there are other options…

Eco-friendly playing cards

The impact of their operations on the environment is being considered by playing card makers. They also need to keep their customers happy – more and more are seeking out eco-friendly alternatives to the products they use day-to-day. The Bicycle brand have stepped up the mark when it comes to sustainability. They have a special eco-deck – but this is just a ‘celebration’ of what they do with all their cards, rather than being a stand-alone product (the occasional set in their range cannot be recycled – if, say, it has a metallic feature – but this is the exception rather than the rule).

Bicycle cards are made from sustainably harvested paper, and they use vegetable-based inks. They can be tossed into your curbside recycling bin once you have finished with them – no need to divert them from landfill by using them as beer mats, for origami and suchlike (although, you should reuse or pass them on if you can).

The thing we love about the Bicycle brand is that their green credentials are not just on the surface for customers to see. They have made changes behind-the-scenes too that have the potential to make a large environmental impact. They have a LOT of scrap paper from the 220,000 decks that they print every single day. But they don’t just send it to landfill where it would take up space – they bale it up and send it for recycling. And they don’t stop there – playing cards must be manufactured in certain temperature and humidity conditions. Bicycle save energy by creating a partition that keeps this area separate. Check them out for all your eco-friendly playing card needs – you won’t be disappointed.

The bottom line

Although you can’t recycle decks of playing cards with a plastic coating, you can rehome them or reuse them for a different purpose. However, if crafts (or having 52 playing card related crafts in your home) is not your thing, you can get an eco-friendly set to begin with. The Bicycle brand is a great place to start – most of their cards are recyclable and Bicycle ensure planet-friendly practices in the manufacturing process.   Although we recommend, as always, to get the maximum use out of your playing cards. Although, recycling is better than sending an item to landfill it still uses a lot of resources too.