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Teaching old credit cards new tricks

Innovative artists recycle expired credit cards into inspired creations

By Erin Peterson

It's getting easier to be green with credit cards

A typical credit card weighs less than a quarter of an ounce, but when you consider that there are more than 1 billion cards in circulation today, that's an awful lot of plastic. While most people think that an expired card is best shredded and tossed, there are a creative few who are happy to breathe new life into old cards -- and who are doing their part to keep that plastic from heading to the landfill.

Old credit cards are being recycled into everything from guitar picks to jewelry. Tiffany Threadgould, who sells earrings made from credit cards, says it's easy to see the appeal: "Credit cards are so abundant and iconic," she says. "When you can tell what the first life of an item is, it's educational and shows others what can be created out of scrap materials."

Whether you want to showcase your eco-sensibility -- or just your desire to shop till you drop -- the clever products below will fit the bill. These entrepreneurs and artists are proving that even if you can't swipe a card at your local grocery store or gas station, it still might be worth a lot of dough.

Credit card magnets
Credit card magnets

Stick it to 'em
Whether you like to post your receipts or your artwork on the fridge, these tiny star magnets will hold them tight. Artist Wenia Lee says she got the idea when cutting up one of her expired credit cards. "I thought if I put the pieces in the trash all at once, someone may still put them back together like a puzzle," she says. "It hit me suddenly that I could use them for a mosaic."

 Lee, who gets some of the cards she uses from her friends and parents, sells the stars in sets of five for $15.

Top picks
If smart recycling is music to your ears, consider buying a set of guitar picks made from donated credit cards, gift cards, and hotel keys. Save your nails -- and the planet. A set of 8 can be purchased for $5.

Credit card earrings
Earrings from recycled cards

Be jeweled
Credit cards: a girl's best friend? These days, diamonds aren't the only things you might want on from your neck, ears, or wrist. In some cases, precious stones have been replaced by precious plastic.

Artist Debra White sells a credit card necklace made with a vintage typewriter key and expired credit cards ($16) as well as a bracelet created entirely from old cards and typewriter keys (currently unavailable).

Replayground's Threadgould, meanwhile, says that friends and family have been happy to donate their old credit cards to help her create her Take Charge earrings, created and packaged with old credit cards. "I wanted to figure out a way people could wear [the cards] once their first life was over, and earrings made perfect sense," she says. For $12, you can get a pair of your own in one of two sizes: short or dangly.

If you're looking for earrings for a slightly more formal occasion, you might try the gold-leaf covered credit card earrings ($17).

Reframe yourself
What better way to keep your finances top of mind than to face a sea of credit cards every time you look in the mirror? For $50, you can get a mirror framed by a mosaic of credit card tiles.

Credit card keychain
Expired cards into key rings

All keyed up
Plain key rings may be functional, but they don't have much personality. White sliced out the Visa and MasterCard logos from expired cards and slipped them into old typewriter keys to make these key chains, adding beads to match the card's color scheme.

Credit card mixed media artwork
Artistically preapproved

From trash to treasure
Credit cards aren't the only thing that can be recycled -- millions of credit card offers get mailed to consumers each year, and the vast majority get tossed even before they're opened. For Mandy Huyler, all that mailbox clutter became material for her PreApproved Project. For weeks, the artist collected all of the credit card offers she got in the mail. Instead of trashing them, she reimagined them. In Number 3, she sliced the mail into strips, sewed them together, and mounted them on black matting. For $75, it can be yours.

Eight pieces into the project, she says she's still got plenty of material. "It was a hard decision, but I opted to stop the preapproved offers not long ago," she says. "There were just too many."

Need something on this list to call your own? Appropriately enough, none of the merchants in this story accept cash -- but all of them are happy to take credit cards.

See related stories: "Spin the Green-O-Meter," "Banks that go green," "Green credit cards interactive," "Poll: U.S. not very eco-friendly on credit cards," "10 ways to go green with credit cards

Published: April 22, 2008



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