October 22, 2007

Green Alternatives for Used Gift Cards

It is estimated that 10 billion new gift cards are placed in circulation every year, which translates to a potential 100 million pounds of PVC, polyvinyl chloride, being converted to garbage. 100 million pounds is about the same weight as 5,000 adult elephants. Now that is a lot of PVC plastic. What alternatives are there to minimize the impact that 100 millions pound PVC plastic will have on our landfills? How about reusing, recycling, or substituting the plastic gift cards?

Upcycled Starbucks Gift Card Coasters

1. Reuse: In the traditional sense, the main way to reuse gift cards is to reload value back on the card. Unfortunately, only reloadable gift cards can be reused in this fashion. Almost all gift cards are capable of being reloadable, but it is up to the issuers to determine if they want to support this feature. Another way of reusing gift card is to think of new uses for it, which is also called upcycling. One ingenious person upcycled Starbucks gift cards into coasters, as illustrated above. I’m sure people out there will find other uses, such as creating mosaic art pieces out of used gift cards similar to what someone did with all the AOL CDs. Interesting enough there are people out there collecting used gift cards, so it may be worth while to pass or sell your used gift cards to them.

2. Recycle: Most people do not know it, but PVC is a recyclable plastic. Unfortunately, gift cards do not have the recycling symbol for Type 3 plastic on it to let people know it is recyclable. There are several recycling process out there for Type 3 plastic, such as turning it back into PVC material, pipes or energy. Check with your local recycler if they accept Type 3 plastic. On a larger commercial scale, Earthworks Systems collects used gift cars and other PVC cards from retailers and turns it into new sheets of PVC plastic stock. Supposedly, their process uses less energy to make PVC from used gift cards than it takes to produce virgin PVC.

3. Substitute: Instead of giving a traditional gift card, consider giving an online/electronic gift card. There is no plastic and the gift recipient can still use it to get the gift they want. Another consideration is to buy gift cards made from bio-degradable plastic. Target uses a bio-degradable plastic, called Mirel, made from corn for their gift cards. The plastic will breakdown in wet and moist environment, which is ideal for most compost piles. At Sustainable Is Good they have pictures of a Mirel based gift card from Target. The amazing thing is that after 40 days in the compost, the gift card does not look anything like a piece of plastic.

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