what to do with old license plates
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What to Do With Old License Plates: How to Recycle, Upcycle, and More

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Jan. 19 2021, Updated 4:30 p.m. ET

People accumulate a number of strange things over the course of their lifetimes. Some people collect old toys or old National Geographic magazines, and some people, without even knowing, might eventually find that they've inadvertently kept a pile of old license plates in their garage. The magazines and toys might be worth money, but who knows if those dented sheets of aluminum are worth anything at all? Either way, now that you have them, what do you do with old license plates

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what to do with old license plates
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What to do with old license plates?

If you live in New York State, like me, you probably don’t have any old license plates lying around. According to the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles, license plates need to be surrendered to the DMV whenever you lose liability coverage or when you wish to register your vehicle in another state. The thing is, every state has a different law regarding how license plates should be treated after they are no longer being used on a car. 

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In some states, you don’t need to turn the plates at all. According to Earth911, states like Florida allow you to dispose of an old license plate by submitting or mailing the plate to any local Florida county tax collector’s office. You could also mail the plates to a license plate agency along with a request to cancel and recycle the license plate.

That said, some states will allow you to dispose of them yourself. You might even want to keep them for some sentimental reason. Let’s say you have a soft spot for the car they once adorned or you are moving to a new state and want to hold onto the memories of your old home. Many states offer this option, though the circumstances vary from place to place. 

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If you want to keep your plates in Washington state, for example, all you need to do is remove or invalidate the month and year tabs. It also goes without saying that you can no longer display the plates on a vehicle of any kind. 

what to do with old license plates
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Are all license plates treated the same way?

Just as regular license plates are treated differently on a state-by-state basis, so too are the specialty plates. Disabled parking plates and commercial parking plates might have to be returned, regardless of how meaningful you find them. These restrictions are put in place so that unsavory types don’t attempt to misuse the parking privileges granted by these specific types of plates. 

Can I recycle license plates?

If your state doesn’t make a big fuss about turning your old plates in, or if you’ve suddenly found three dozen of your grandpa’s old plates while cleaning out the attic, you might be able to recycle them in your town. License plates are usually made of aluminum, one of the more recyclable materials around today. 

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Before you go tossing the plates in with your soda cans, however, make sure you check your municipality's website. Some towns may let you toss your plates in your curbside recycling bin along with aluminum cans. However, not all programs are cool with you placing license plates in your recycling bin, and they might have different regulations or requirements when it comes to license plates. Some of them might prefer you bring them directly to the nearest recycling center. A great tool for finding the recycling center nearest you is Earth911’s Recycling Locator

what to do with old license plates
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Can I upcycle license plates?

If you don’t want to recycle them and you don’t want to turn them in, there are some crafty options for old license plates as well. Aluminum is one of the more malleable metals, which allows it to be molded into all sorts of shapes. Earth911 has some fun recommendations for crafty recyclers. You could turn old plates into decorative wall sconces, wall hangings, or transform them into clipboards with a few pieces of hardware from the craft store.

License plates make great gifts for folks who are into cars or state-themed tchotchkes. You can bend them into standalone containers or curve them over already-built wooden boxes. The only limits are your own imagination. Check Pinterest for all kinds of funky license plate craft ideas.

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what to do with old license plates
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Can I buy or sell my old plates?

As it turns out, there is a market for everything, even old license plates. A box of old license plates might actually be worth something to someone. You could go down to your local antique or thrift store and see what they are worth, or sell them on eBay or some other online marketplace. Then again, you might find that you want to start collecting them yourself!

Earth911 led this writer to discover the Automobile License Plate Collectors Association (ALPCA). The ALPCA has apparently been around since 1954 and since then, it has been “dedicated to the promotion of license plate collecting and research, the exchange of information and plates, and the fraternal benefits of sharing a common interest with others throughout the world.” It might just be the type of club you or someone you know wants to join. 

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