A festive scene of a Christmas card in an envelope, and gifts, displayed at the foot of a Christmas tree with lights on it.

How to recycle Christmas cards

Even in today’s digital era, Christmas cards remain a thriving tradition, with the UK alone witnessing the exchange of approximately one billion cards over the festive season.

Surprisingly, the younger generation is championing this custom, sending more cards than their older counterparts. With such numbers, it’s clearly a tradition that’s here to stay.

However, this annual exchange delivers an environmental consideration. With so many cards and envelopes being distributed every December, the aftermath involves managing over two billion pieces of waste. How we handle this waste can significantly impact our planet.

Let’s explore the importance of disposing of Christmas cards responsibly and unearth actionable ways to reuse and recycle this seasonal waste.

Why recycle Christmas cards?

When Christmas cards are recycled instead of ending up in landfills, it’s a significant win for the environment. Landfill sites are notorious for their detrimental impact, as the decomposition of waste takes an exceptionally long time and releases harmful gases into the atmosphere.

We actively reduce the demand for fresh raw materials when we recycle paper and cardboard. This means fewer trees are harvested to produce new cards, contributing positively to forest conservation efforts.

Recycling also requires less energy than creating products from scratch (reducing carbon emissions), making recycling Christmas cards an impactful step toward environmental preservation.

An added advantage for business owners is avoiding landfill taxes. Recycling festive cards not only aids the planet but also avoids the costs linked to waste disposal in landfills or through incineration, serving as a prudent financial and ecological choice.

Which Christmas cards can be recycled?

Paper-based Christmas cards and envelopes are generally recyclable — but certain cards require a closer look.

Unfortunately, cards adorned with foil or glitter can’t go into the recycling bin due to these embellishments. However, there’s a workaround — if the foil or glitter is limited to a specific section, tear that portion off and recycle the remaining card.

Similarly, cards boasting extra decorations like ribbons or batteries (commonly found in musical cards) need disassembly. Remove the adornments before recycling the rest of the card. Ribbons might find a new purpose through reuse, but if not, they should be disposed of in the general waste bin.

Batteries can be recycled separately. Take them to a local WEEE recycling point or deposit them in designated battery recycling boxes in electronics stores. Some supermarkets also have battery disposal stations.

Where to recycle Christmas cards

Most local councils facilitate the collection of Christmas cards through mixed recycling bins. You can confirm this by examining your council’s guidelines or using the Recycle Now checker.

Additionally, workplaces often provide commercial mixed recycling bins, allowing employees to dispose of their Christmas cards responsibly.

If these options aren’t available or your recycling bins are full, household waste recycling centres are a reliable alternative for disposing unwanted greeting cards.

Alternatively, supermarkets and various retail stores selling greeting cards usually offer collection boxes in January for recycling.

How Christmas cards are recycled

On arrival at the recycling facility, paper and cardboard are carefully sorted based on their specific types.

This material is then pulped using water and chemicals, breaking it into fibres and streamlining the subsequent stages. The initial process targets removing non-paper elements like staples, inks, and plastic film.

The resulting fibres and pulp form the foundation for crafting fresh sheets of paper. A precise blend — typically consisting of 1% pulp and 99% fibre — is mixed and, if required, tinted with colourants. This mixture is then sprayed onto swiftly moving mesh sheets, allowing the damp paper to dry more effectively.

The paper then undergoes pressing, rolling, and heating to yield the final product. These refined paper sheets are wound into sizable rolls, ready to be transformed into an array of new products.

This recycled paper is a versatile raw material for everyday items, from greeting cards to newsprint, paper bags, and printer paper.

How to reuse Christmas cards

A festive scene of wrapped Christmas gifts and a Christmas card, all in recyclable paper.

Before consigning your Christmas cards to the recycling bin, consider granting them a second life through creative reuse or upcycling.

Create gift tags

One fantastic way to repurpose cards is by transforming them into gift tags.

Cut out appealing images from the card fronts using scissors or a punch, then create a hole in one corner to attach a string or ribbon.

Embrace sustainability even more by reusing the string from gift tags you received on past gifts.

Store these newly crafted gift tags in a designated box for future use. When the next festive season rolls around, add personalised messages and attach them to each gift.

Make new Christmas cards

Revamp your collection of Christmas cards by repurposing them into brand-new ones for next Christmas.

Start by carefully selecting attractive images from the Christmas cards you’ve received. Using scissors, trim these images and fix them onto folded pieces of cardboard to craft unique, personalised cards.

Design a festive coaster

Create festive coasters from recycled Christmas cards using simple white tiles — perfect for seasonal use or as thoughtful gifts for loved ones.

Begin by cutting your chosen Christmas card image into a square of a size that leaves a half-centimetre border on the tile. Affix the card square to the tile using Mod Podge or a similar adhesive and allow it to dry thoroughly.

Once the card is securely attached, coat the entire top surface of the tile with another layer of Mod Podge and let it dry again. This step ensures a protective finish and durability for your coaster.

Attach four felt pads underneath the tile using glue to complete the project. These pads will safeguard your surfaces and prepare the coasters to serve a cosy cup of cheer throughout the festive season.

Fashion a wreath

Craft a distinctive and eye-catching decoration for the home by repurposing your old Christmas cards into a paper wreath.

Start by cutting them into strips approximately 2cm wide. Using glue, stick these strips onto a flat wire wreath frame, ensuring they cover and meet the inner ring of the frame to conceal it from view.

Overlapping the pieces slightly as you attach them will prevent gaps, resulting in a seamless and visually appealing design.

Plan a puzzle

Craft an enjoyable and straightforward puzzle for kids by assembling lollipop sticks in a row and glueing the front of a recycled Christmas card onto them. You can repurpose old lollipop sticks or purchase some from a craft store for this activity.

Once the adhesive has thoroughly dried, carefully cut between the sticks to create individual puzzle pieces. The result is a delightful and entertaining puzzle, perfect for the Christmas dinner table or as a fun addition to a Christmas stocking.

Published by

Lucy Ravenhall

Lucy is a long-standing editor of the Forge Recycling blog and loves writing about her environmental passions.

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