Picking out the perfect gift for someone is never easy, which is probably why gift cards have become a retail phenomenon. Overlooking the fact that purchasing a gift card means the recipient will know exactly how much has been spent on them, consumers who want to give but don’t want to shop have made these plastic discs what they are today—enormously popular. About 3 billion new plastic gift cards are produced each year and shipped to major retailers, restaurants, movie theatres, spas…you name it. Just about every commercial business selling to the public has a gift card.
The upside to using these cards is that the recipient will, eventually, get exactly what they want. This means less driving around to return or exchange unwanted gifts; and gift cards can lead to less consumerism if the card recipient doesn’t need anything and never actually uses it—though In this society that is unlikely. The card will likely be passed along to someone who will use it.
The downside to using gift cards is that they lead to more plastic manufacturing and waste, and most gift cards are made with PVC—the worst plastic from both an environmental and health standpoint.
Minimize the impact of plastic gift cards in the following ways:
1. Don’t use them. Instead request a paper gift certificate (preferably printed on recycled stock). You’ll need to go through the manager to get one, but paper is much easier to recycle. You could also give cash in lieu of a gift card. Then the recipient will not only be able to choose their own gift, but their store of choice as well.
2. Before purchasing a gift card, check for a marking that indicates it is made from recycled materials (the chasing arrows alone may only mean it is recyclable). If none can be found, consider option #1 above.
3. Recycle your gift cards. Send expired or damaged plastic cards to:
Earthworks c/o Halprin Ind., 25840 Miles Rd., Bedford, Oh 44146 for recycling.
4. Shop at stores that use cards made from bioplastic, a plant-based biodegradable material. However, magnetic strips and other components present in these cards will not biodegrade. And due to the unique plastic, these cards are not recyclable along with conventional PVC cards. (Participating retailers include Target, REI, Borders and Walmart, according to Plenty Magazine.)
5. If you receive a card that is reloadable, reload and reuse it for as long as you can. When you are done with it, gift it to another and encourage the new recipient to do the same.
6. Wherever you see a gift card display, let management know that they can recycle spent cards given to them by patrons. Refer them to the web site EarthworksSystem.com.
By Crissy Trask for Green Matters