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by Craig Pryce December 13, 2021

As our mantelpieces and window sills fill up with festive greetings and wishes for a happy new year, you may already be wondering what to do with your Christmas cards once the celebrations are over.

You might also be surprised to learn that not every Christmas card is recyclable. In fact, many shop bought ones sadly aren’t.

In this blog, Wheelie Bin Solutions will take you through where you can recycle your Christmas cards, as well as some eco-friendly seasons greetings to send that are kinder to the planet.

The History of Christmas Cards

Here in the UK, we love to send each other a Christmas card. The trend was started in 1843 by civil servant Sir Henry Cole, who one year commissioned his artist friend to design a Christmas image and festive message which he then posted out to his address book.

However it was the Victorians who really accelerated the tradition a few years later. As Christmas became more commercialized with the introduction of Santa Claus, present-giving, and decorations, sending Christmas cards became another annual act that we still do today.

Nowadays, the Christmas card industry is worth approximately £1.3 billion, with over 1.5 billion cards bought every year. That’s a lot of Merry Christmases!

Is sending Christmas cards bad for the environment?

Wrapping paper already has a bad reputation for damaging the planet. Yet, despite being a loving gesture and something that most of us like to receive, Christmas cards also have a negative impact on the environment.

Most of our Christmas cards end up in landfill, as many of the materials used are not recyclable. With one tree making around 3,000 Christmas cards, around 33 million trees (1 billion cards) could be ending up in the bin.

When you take into account the manufacturing process, printing, postage, and decomposition, sending just one Christmas card is the equivalent of releasing 140g of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

While sending less cards may be the answer, it also seems the UK public are actually moving in the opposite direction. The Coronavirus pandemic has prompted people to post out more festive wishes. In 2020, over 55% of people polled said that sending a Christmas card was more important than ever, having not been able to see their loved ones in person.

What Christmas cards can be recycled?

Children creating their own homemade Christmas cards.

If you’re one of the many who will be contributing to the billions of cards being posted up and down the country this year, make sure you’re recycling properly this Christmas and learn which cards are recyclable, and which ones aren’t.

Most paper based Christmas cards and their envelopes can be recycled in your home recycling bin or at local recycling points, including household waste recycling centres or supermarket collection points.

However, do make sure to remove any non-paper additions from your Christmas cards before you pop them in your recycling. Things like bows and ribbons can’t be recycled, as well as glittered section or parts with a heavy amount of glue. Tear off these areas and put them in your general waste bin instead.

Musical cards will also have a small battery inside of them which needs to be disposed of as you would a household battery – at a local collection point in your nearest supermarket.

In the past, supermarket giants Marks and Spencer, Sainsbury’s and Tesco have run Christmas card recycling schemes, with M&S supporting environmental charity The Woodland Trust by encouraging shoppers to recycle their Christmas cards through the shop. A tree was planted for every 1,000 cards recycled, resulting in over 51,000 trees across the eight years the scheme was running.

What Christmas cards can’t be recycled?

Plastic Christmas cards, cards with a foil image, and glitter covered cards can’t be recycled at home. These will need to be put in your household waste bin instead.

Buying your cards in bulk? Those plastic boxes or film, which many multipack Christmas cards come packaged in, cannot be recycled either.

Eco-friendly Christmas cards

There are ways to ensure your Christmas wishes to your loved ones come with a green conscience. The eco-friendly Christmas card industry is only growing by the year, with many people making the switch to a more sustainable message every Christmas.

The Seed Card Company uses post-consumer waste to manufacture its cards, meaning no trees are harmed during the process. A selection of seeds are then added to the mulch, before being turned into pretty, festive designs. Once Christmas is over, simply pop your seed card in a pot with some soil and wait for a beautiful plant to emerge.

You’ll also find a number of card shops and companies promoting their recycled Christmas cards. This means that they are printed onto FSC-approved card – paper that doesn’t damage the world’s forests – or recycled card. Ensure you read up on what type of FSC card you have, as this impacts how you eventually dispose of your Christmas cards.

Eco-store &Keep go one better with their Christmas card selection, by using FSC-approved card as well as vegetable ink, carbon neutral printers, and plastic-free packaging to ensure a completely green festive message.

How to reuse your Christmas cards at home

Homemade gift card on wrapping paper.

Of course, we know you can’t help what Christmas cards people send you. Those pretty yet pesky glittered-covered cards aren’t not only bad news for carpets, but they also can’t be recycled either.

Yet there are some things you can do with your unrecyclable Christmas cards at home instead of sending them straight to landfill.

Turn them into gift tags ready for next year’s presents, or even use your favourite ones as bookmarks for your next read.

Those sequined and sparkly sections also make great New Year’s Eve decorations – from banners to place names, go wild and get creative with your festive party planning.

Craig Pryce

Craig Pryce

With over 17 years of experience in the waste and recycling industry, Craig is passionate about making recycling easier and reducing the negative impact of litter. He has been the managing director of Wheelie Bin Solutions (WBS) since January 2016, and prides the company on his expert knowledge, top-quality products, and customer service. His proudest moment was when WBS supported the 2012 Olympic Games, working in partnership with Contenur UK to supply over 9000 bin containers to all Olympic venues. Craig is always keen to share his knowledge, so whether you need advice about the benefits of a wheelie bin lock, or ideas for alternative uses for your wheelie bin, Craig will ensure your recycling and waste disposal habits are gold medal worthy.