Have a stack of valentines and holiday greeting cards you’re ready to toss out? Some of them can be composted. Read on to learn more about which valentines day cards you can compost without contaminating your finished compost.
Each year, we exchange 145 million cards for Valentine’s Day just in the United States. At about $3 per card, that’s nearly $450 million in revenue for one day to tell people we love them (something we ought to be doing without mass-produced cards more than once a year). If the greeting card and paper companies set out to amplify the holiday primarily for profit, they’ve done a great job.
With so much trading of paper and plastic products for Valentine’s Day, it begs the question of how much trash we generate for the holiday and how many of the cards we share can be composted. The mountain of punny and cheesy cards consumes immense amounts of resources. I suspect forests are not fans of this festival of affinity humans shower on each other.
While it’s far from adequate consolation, composting Valentine’s Day cards can offset a tiny portion of the carbon footprint of that paper mountain if the cards are compostable. But can we return the paperboard cards to the soil? Or have they been overly processed with so many other materials that they’ve been relegated to the trash?
Can You Compost Valentine’s Day Cards?
As is often the case, it depends. In the case of Valentine’s cards, compostability depends primarily on the materials of which the card is made. Some Valentine’s cards belong in the trash bin while others can happily find a home in your compost bucket.
Let’s take a dumpster dive into the details of composting Valentine’s Day cards.
Types of Compostable Valentine’s Day Cards
There are several types of Valentine’s Day cards you can compost that range from the most basic to some far fancier alternatives.
Paper or Cardboard Valentine’s Day Cards
Most store-bought valentines are made of paper or cardboard. Some of these are compostable but most are not. If the valentines and greeting cards are made of simple matte paper or cardboard, you can compost them.
However, cards made with glitter, metallic coating, embossing, plastic adornments, or other plastic embellishments cannot be composted unless you can remove those elements. These embellishments look pretty but are all made of plastic, metal, or other synthetic materials that will contaminate compost.
You might be able to remove a few plastic elements, but in most cases, you can’t get everything off the paper. If only a certain section of the card has glitter or embossing, for example, you could compost the parts without the embellishments. The rest of the card belongs in the recycling or the trash.
Plantable Valentine’s Day Cards
Plantable greeting cards made with seed paper are a blooming trend. You can find them in tons of Etsy shops, in specialty seed paper shops, and even in certain big box stores. Plantable greeting cards incorporate vegetable, herb, and flower seeds into the paper during the production process.
After enjoying the card, you plant the card in soil, and the paper decomposes while the seeds germinate and grow into plants. These fun and flourishing cards can definitely go into your compost bin, though we much prefer to find them in the soil where they can sprout and thrive.
Want to know more about seed paper and whether or not all of it is really eco-friendly? Check out our seed paper analysis on our sister site, where we dug into the facts about whether or not seed paper is actually eco-friendly.
DIY Printable Valentine’s Day Cards
In recent years, we’ve seen many companies offer free printable valentines for audiences like their email subscribers or their followers. You print these cute and creative cards on your home printer and cut them apart with scissors for a semi-DIY alternative.
So long as you print these valentines on standard printer paper, you can compost them in any home or commercial compost system. The paper is a great compost feedstock, and printer ink is generally soy-based, so it will not contaminate your compost pile. Even if you write notes on your printable valentines with pens, pencils, markers, or crayons, you can still compost these simple valentines.
Homemade Valentine’s Day Cards | DIY paper or DIY seed paper
If you make your own valentines with regular paper, construction paper, or even seed paper and decorate them with art supplies like pencils, markers, and crayons, those valentines can definitely find a home in your compost bin after the holiday.
If you or your little ones decorate the card with paint or pesky plastic adornments like glitter and sequins, enjoy them to their fullest and then put them in the trash when they’ve passed their useful life.
Types of Non-compostable Valentine’s Day Cards
As Valentine’s Day cards got fancier, their carbon footprint also blossomed, and that’s not great for the planet or our communities. Most of the cards we buy with the best of intentions will languish in landfills after they’ve proclaimed our love for each other.
Shiny Paper Valentines Day Cards
Many valentines have a sheen coating on them, similar to the coating on crackers and cereal boxes. This is not compostable. Because you can’t remove the coating from the paper card, the card does not belong in the compost bucket.
Cards With Sequin, Glitter, and Other Plastics Embellishments
As we mentioned above, sequins, glitter, embossing, and other plastic embellishments are neither compostable nor recyclable. Unfortunately, cards adorned with these shiny spangles contaminate compost piles.
Plastic takes hundreds of years to break down, even when the pieces are small. The incredible microorganisms that do the heavy lifting and digesting of organic matter to turn trash into garden gold do not eat plastic for lunch.
Can You Compost Valentines and Greeting Cards With Writing and Drawing on Them?
To the extent the art supplies are non-toxic, they should not contaminate your compost pile. Crayons, markers, and many types of paint are non-toxic, especially those made for kids. If it’s safe enough for kids to ingest, it won’t hurt the microorganisms in the compost pile either.
Can You Compost Cards With Glue on Them?
Similar to the art supplies for writing and drawing, non-toxic glue like school glue shouldn’t be an issue for a compost bin. However, it makes sense to check the container. If it doesn’t explicitly say “non-toxic”, it’s best to toss it in the trash.
If you’re using glue to add embellishments, like the plastic ones we mentioned above, then it’s off to the trash for those cards after you’re done enjoying them.
How To Choose The Most Eco-friendly Valentine’s Day Cards
As Valentine’s Day rolls around each year, consider choosing store-bought cards or a DIY option that your recipient can compost after the holiday. Paperboard cards with no sheen, regular printer paper, construction paper, or seed paper made with native wildflower, vegetable, or herb seeds all are great options.
Decorate the cards with crayons, non-toxic markers, or pens and pencils. Maybe even add a note to let them know it is compostable and encourage people to pause and rethink how they handle the waste.
If you’re comfortable opting out of cards altogether, that’s definitely an option. There are countless ways to show your love and affection for others without buying them something. Companies have invested heavily in marketing efforts to encourage increased consumption of tangible goods around a holiday intended to celebrate something very intangible.
Sending valentines is fun. We’re not trying to rain on your love parade. Kids love the classroom parties and card exchanges. Adults enjoy the sappy sermons of love and the brownie points earned for the collection of affection shown to significant others, friends, and family.
We don’t have much control over what types of valentines and greeting cards others purchase for us. But if you’re purchasing valentines for family and friends or a box of them for your child’s card exchange at school, consider choosing options that can be composted. Not everyone will compost them, but some will, and it helps move us toward more sustainable cultural norms.
As you decide which Valentine’s Day card to buy to proclaim your devotion, consider life after love for your cardboard communication. Can you continue the circle of love in the compost bin and love the soil? Or will your card and its broken heart perish and petrify in the dump?
About The Author
Jen Panaro, founder and editor-in-chief of Honestly Modern, is a self-proclaimed composting nerd and an advocate for sustainable living for modern families. In her spare time, she’s a serial library book borrower, a messy gardener, and a mom of two boys who spends a lot of time in hockey rinks and on baseball fields.
You can find more of her work at WasteWell, a company that provides composting resources and local curbside compost collection services, and Raising Global Kidizens, an online space to help parents and caregivers raise the next generation of responsible global citizens.