What Happens To All Those Plastic Gift Cards?

Gift cards are a major pet peeve of mine. I strongly believe that they are doing more harm than good by making us impulse shop and buy crap we simply don’t need, have you ever thought about What Happens To All Those Plastic Gift Cards?

Can you relate? Someone gives you a gift card and you feel the urge to use it right away?

What are plastic gift cards made from?

Gift cards are also made from PVC, a type of plastic that is typically not recycled and is also not accepted by most recycling systems. So they end up in the garbage and then landfills.

Credit cards and hotel key cards are made of PVC, as are items like pipes, vinyl siding for your house, records, shower curtains, and mattress covers.

How many plastic gift cards are produced yearly?

According to the International Card Manufacturers Association, nearly 17 billion plastic cards were produced in 2006. And 10 billion new gift cards are created every year.

Gift cards in jeans pockets on wooden background, closeupPin

10 billion gift cards have the potential to add 75 to 100 million pounds of polyvinyl chloride (PVC) material to landfills. That’s because gift cards are often made from PVC — a toxic compound that produces carcinogens and toxins including chlorine residue and heavy metal pollutants.

Even worse, when burned, PVC releases dioxins and gases such as hydrogen chloride.

That’s a big issue and I am not sure one that can be solved easily as a recent survey showed that they are the most popular thing to give in Canada.

We actually have an entire website dedicated to buying gift cards. UGH! In another survey, 53% of us will opt to buy gift cards this year.

Now you are probably thinking what’s the big deal?  these are so small? But when you consider that in 2014, two billion gift cards were purchased in the U.S. alone it’s a lot.

According to Giftrocket.com each physical card contains about five grams of PVC and generates 21 grams of CO2. That means in total, gift cards created 10,000 tonnes of PVC waste and 42,000 tonnes of CO2 in the U.S. alone in 2014.

What can you do with all those gift cards? 

Talk to the retailer and ask them if they have a take-back program.

Consider an e-gift card that can be used electronically.

Mail the used card to a recycling centre such as Terracycle. They allow you to send in your plastic gift cards for recycling. These companies break the plastic cards down and create new plastic products from the material.

Upcycle your gift card into something else. If you’re feeling crafty, you can always use the plastic gift card for a wide range of projects. For example, you can use a gift card to keep your earbud cords from tangling.

Reload the card and gift it to someone else.

I’d love to see more retailers offer better options than plastic, like wood or paper AND it would be even better if the cars could be reloaded, in many cases they can’t be.

There has been some progress with some retailers offering cards made from corn sugar that is biodegradable. But this raises the issue of using food crops, or crops on land suitable for food production, for something other than food.

I’ve also read about PET (Polyethylene Terephthalate) being used – PET is one of the easiest plastics to recycle and is most commonly found in the form of soda bottles. The barrier to uptake appears to be cost, with PET costing about 20% more.

Bottom line when it comes to What Happens To All Those Plastic Gift Cards?

We all have plastic cards in our wallets: driver's licenses, health cards, credit cards, etc. and we are all responsible for where these little plastic cards end up.

What do you do with all your plastic gift cards?

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      1. If you go to Earthworks per your link in the above post, it takes you to the page “Take a look in your wallet” and at the bottom of that page it says, “If you are looking for a way to recycle your used cards, please click here… ” and when I click there, I get the error.

  1. You should mention that tera cycle charges you to ship cards to them and that Earthworks website returns a 404 error (and they don’t respond to phone calls).