Birthday card disposal and recycling

Birthday cards are given out every day, and as a nation, we send roughly one billion Christmas cards around the country each year. This, combined with other greeting cards, adds up to a lot of waste – so you must understand the consequences as well as how to reduce this.

birthday and christmas card waste disposal and recycling

Who invented these cards?

Cards of this kind have a long and storied history in the United Kingdom – the first Christmas cards on record were sent to James I (the first) by a German physician. They were mass-produced starting in the 19th century, and it was not long before birthday cards followed this same trend. Tracing them each to a name would be difficult, but brands such as Clintons, Card Factory, Moonpig and more are staples of any card-based commemoration.

What are they made from and how are they made?

Manufacturers typically make greeting cards from card stock directly, often from recycled materials themselves. Many cards have a glossy acrylic finish, often in conjunction with a photograph. Soy inks are easier to clean and are becoming more common, but oil-based inks can persist.

Manufacturers print cards with specific ‘plates’ that they create using lasers to ensure a final uniform design. They print the designs thousands of times over in their special high-end printers. They then leave the final cards to dry for days once they have successfully applied the design and any accompanying images.

Greeting card disposal

You can recycle most of these cards as paper alongside basic envelopes, but this is not always the case. You cannot recycle cards with glitter or glue – you must dispose of these through a general waste bin. However, we recommend that you try to remove the glitter or glue to the best of your ability – if you can, then this will allow you to recycle the card. Generally, a recycling symbol should be evident on cards that can be recycled immediately.

What happens to old cards after they have been placed in the bin?

After you recycle your paper and card, they are sorted into different grades which are then reprocessed into new cards – provided they are still of decent quality. They mix the recycled cards with soap and water to remove the inks printed upon them – this creates slurry, which becomes the base for new card products. The water can more easily remove soy ink compared to traditional oil-based ink.

Problems with card waste

Waste contamination is a big issue when it comes to preserving cards for future recycling. It could potentially be corrupted by something as simple as a half-drank cup of coffee that the buyer mistakenly thought did not need to be emptied. Workers may need to dismiss entire lorry loads of recycling if there are issues, and there is only so much that they can remove by hand with such a heavy workload.

Alternatives to creating card waste

Sticking only with recyclable cards that use soy-based ink makes things easier for everyone. The disposable nature of cards means they will often be present in our waste – though you could always keep them for the memories they might represent or turn them into decorations for next year. E-cards are also slowly becoming a popular alternative to the conventional greeting card.

Facts about greeting cards

The greeting card industry as a whole makes nearly £2 billion every year from our purchases, and Christmas cards produce 280 million tonnes of carbon on an annual basis. This does make us the biggest card industry worldwide, but also the most environmentally unfriendly one.

Where can they be freely recycled?

As mentioned above, your recycling bin should be able to handle most birthday and Christmas cards, provided they meet the right criteria. Council recycling centres are also viable options and you can usually find their locations on your local council website. Practically any paper recycling bin you come across should do the job – again, assuming no ribbons or glitter are remaining.

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