Every year, billions of gift cards are produced and over 90% of Americans have either given or received them. They're a popular choice for holiday presents, thank you gifts, bonuses from employers, and sweepstakes prizes.
But what do you do with the cards when your shopping sprees are over, and the gift cards are empty?
Many people simply throw them into the trash, but that is a terrible idea. The number of new gift cards manufactured annually has the potential to "add 75 to 100 million pounds of polyvinyl chloride (PVC) material to landfills" every year.
PVC is a big problem for the environment. It doesn't degrade naturally, and it can leach heavy metals and other pollutants into the ground. When it's burned, it can release poisonous toxins into the air. There must be a better way!
Luckily, there is. Instead of tossing your empty gift cards, you can upcycle them into something you can continue to use and enjoy. This saves you money while keeping gift cards out of landfills and incinerators, protecting the environment.
Here are over a dozen cool uses for gift cards once they have been used up:
Recharge Your Card and Give It as a Gift
Many gift cards let you put more money on them after they have been used, and most have no value printed on them, so you can add as much as you like. You could turn your empty card into a fun gift for friends or loved ones.
Use Your Gift Card to Fix Up Your Home
If you have a wobbly table, a bathtub in need of grouting, or a loose tile to replace, gift cards can help. Read This Old House's article, 10 Uses for Gift Cards for tips on how to use gift cards for home remodeling.
Turn Used Gift Cards Into Greeting Cards
Many gift cards have beautiful patterns on their faces, from flowers to birthday presents to Santa Clauses. It's a shame to let these patterns go to waste.
Instead, cut out the patterns and use them as decorations for homemade greeting cards. Even plain gift cards can be beautiful if you cut them into shapes - hearts from red cards, Christmas trees from green ones, and so on.
Empty Gift Cards Make Cheap and Beautiful Scrapbook Embellishments
Greeting cards aren't the only way to use the beautiful motifs that many used gift cards offer. You can cut your gift cards to make inexpensive replacements for store-bought scrapbook embellishments. Or cut the cards and use them as frames or tags for your scrapbook pages.
Use Old Gift Cards as Stencils
If you enjoy stenciling, gift cards can be very useful. You can use them as a hard surface to spread paint over your stencil, for example.
Don't forget the shapes of the cards themselves. Crafting expert Amy Solovay suggests using the edges of gift cards for stencils in paper crafting. She says, "They have all kinds of interesting shapes — cupcakes, tag shapes, and other intriguing designs." Just trace the edges, paint over the tracings with ink, or lay the cards down and spray them with paint to create beautiful patterns on your stationery.
Another idea is to cut words or shapes out of the gift cards themselves and use the cards as stencils. Spray paint or spread your medium of choice over them to transfer your designs onto paper or canvas.
Use Empty Gift Cards for Making Pottery
If you make your own pottery, you can use expired gift cards as scrapers and texture tools. Used gift cards can help you spend less money on your hobby by replacing tools you would otherwise have to buy.
Organize Yarn and Thread with Used Gift Cards
If you enjoy cross-stitch or other needlecrafts, you can punch holes in empty gift cards and use them as mini thread organizers.
You can also cut notches into the short sides of the cards and use them to hold embroidery floss and pearl cotton thread. For yarns, cut a hole in the center of the card and loop the sorted yarn through the hole, one type of yarn per card.
Turn Your Old Gift Cards Into Jewelry
Cut the plastic into pretty shapes and paint, decoupage, or decorate it with stickers. You can then string the pieces together to make funky jewelry and belts. Here's a tutorial for turning gift cards into earrings or take a look at this beautiful gift card bracelet for inspiration.
Use Recycled Gift Cards as Keychains
If you have gift cards with pretty colors or patterns, cut them into shapes, punch a hole in them, thread a ring through the hole, and you have a pretty and inexpensive keychain.
Another idea is to use any old gift card as a backing for a favorite picture or graphic. Use Modge Podge the protect the image, punch a hole, thread a ring, and voila. Your own custom keychain.
Use Gift Cards for Inexpensive Mosaics
Cut colorful gift cards into small pieces and you can use them to create mosaic patterns in lieu of more expensive materials. Here's an idea for a mosaic photo frame made with gift cards. And if you are looking for a conversation piece, here's an idea for a mosaic table that gets its pizzazz from empty cards.
Use Old Gift Cards to Keep Spare Keys Safe in Your Wallet
LifeHacker.com ran a contest calling for interesting uses for empty gift cards, and the winner was a simple idea for keeping spare keys safe in your wallet. Tape an extra house or car key to the inside of an empty gift card, then tape another gift card on top of it. Tuck the resulting key sandwich into one of the credit card slots in your wallet and you won't have to worry about the key falling out or getting lost.
Keep Your Garden Orderly with Empty Gift Cards
Paint your rectangular gift cards a matte black color and then use a white Sharpie to write the names of your plantings for cheap and attractive plant markers.
You can also use a similar technique to create place-setting name cards for your next dinner party or holiday meal.
Create Holiday Decorations from Gift Cards
You can use gift cards to make unusual wreaths, cut out pretty shapes to use as ornaments on your tree, or use as a backing for a decoupaged photo. You can also cut them into gift tag size and glue paper to them to write your gift recipients' names.
Organize Your Cords and Cables with Old Gift Cards
If your cords and cables are out of control, use your old gift cards to wrangle them. Simply cut notches into the long sides and punch holes in the short sides and you have an easy and attractive DIY cord holder.
Upcycle Gift Cards Into Easy and Inexpensive Coasters
Cut gift cards into square shapes, mix and match the colors, and glue them onto a corkboard backing to create handy and beautiful coasters. A coat of Modge Podge makes them smoother and more durable.
Create Hanging Wall Art Out of Old Gift Cards
Save up all those expired credit cards and empty gift cards, and cut them into strips. Punch holes in the strips and thread cord through them. Hang them from something attractive, like a copper curtain rod holder, and you have some beautiful and inexpensive artwork.
Throwing out a gift card is a waste. Instead, take advantage of their stiff plastic and bright designs and recycle them into something useful. It will help you save money and make our planet a little safer.