I’ve been carrying around two plastic movie theater gift cards for over a year. Gifts from co-workers, they are much-appreciated because they represent gifts of experiences (movies) rather than more stuff. The fact that I still have them simply means I need to get out more. But the cards themselves, of course, are made from plastic. And what happens to that plastic at the end of its life? Unlike credit cards which must be destroyed for security reasons, some gift cards can keep on giving.
Gift cards are made from PVC, one of the most toxic plastics from cradle to grave. Each year, according to Plenty Magazine, “a whopping 75 million pounds of polyvinyl chloride material from plastic cards enters America’s waste stream.”
Several companies (Target, Borders, REI, Wal-Mart) offer biodegradable gift cards made from corn, while others provide reloadable cards, also decreasing the need for new plastic if consumers will take the time to save and reload them. Turns out that my two movie cards — AMC Theatres and Cinemark — are both reloadable. This is a relief because once they are used up, I’ll keep them and add funds when I need a gift to give someone else.
Why buy a new card when these can spread joy and cinema magic indefinitely?
But I also have a third card, one which actually ended up in my possession just yesteraday. Hanging out in a cafe between work and an evening event, I decided to check my email. After pre-paying for time on the computer, I was handed a plastic Internet access card with unique login and password codes. This card, unfortunately, is not reloadable, I discovered today after calling the company. Not sure what material it’s made from, I sent an email to the owner to ask about recycling and whether sustainability crossed their minds when developing this method of Internet payment.
Honestly, I probably would not have thought much about this small plasticky card if it were not for the dedication of one Fake Plastic Fish reader, Sari, who emailed me several weeks ago with a dilemma which became an amazing inspirational story!
The Save-On Pharmacy where she lives had a nifty promotion. They’d give a $10 reward each time customers spent a certain amount in the store. The $10 was added to a reloadable gift card that each customer kept and used continually. But recently, the company switched to disposable gift cards. Now customers are rewarded with a brand new $10 gift card each time they spend the required amount. The old gift cards are tossed out after they are used up instead of reloaded.
Sari was incensed at this blatant waste and contacted the store manager, who told her that the company had crunched the numbers and determined that disposable gift cards were less expensive. It seems counterintuitive, but that is what she was told. So Sari emailed the store’s headquarters and received similarly discouraging response. At that point, she emailed me. A quick Google Search turned up the aforementioned Plenty article, which also describes a way to recycle used gift cards.
Earthworks System collects and recycles used disposable PVC gift cards. What’s more, they recycle the cards into sheets which can be used to manufacture new gift cards. It’s true recycling, rather than downcycling. While I’m not a fan of PVC, I do appreciate that Earthworks System is helping to curb the need for new PVC to be produced.
Both individuals and businesses can send in used gift cards for recycling. While the company would prefer to receive the cards in large batches (why not set up a collection at your office or school?) they will also accept cards from individuals. Mail them to:
Earthworks c/o Halprin Ind.
25840 Miles Rd.
Bedford, Oh 44146
(Note: this updated address is different from that in the Plenty article, and is based on information provided to Sari last month.)
Sari was excited about the recycling information and presented her findings to Save-On. Within a week, she emailed me again with exciting news: the store manager had contacted her back. Headquarters had decided to conduct a pilot program in her local store. The store manager wanted to meet with her to discuss the details. Since the meeting, he has offered to put a box out in the lobby area of the store as a way for local consumers to drop of any type of gift card for recycling.
This all happened within a couple of weeks because one concerned customer spoke up! Could you be the next one to inspire change?
Sari is now working on getting Starbucks and Barnes & Noble involved in the program, and she has set up a campaign on The Point to encourage others to join. Click the badge to show your support. Or simply speak up like she has. The program is already in place. All stores have to do is set up a collection bin and mail in the used cards.
To continue following Sari’s efforts to get businesses to recycle gift cards, check out her blog, theviewfromsarisworld.blogspot.com.
But remember, no plastic is better than plastic recycling. Think before you purchase that plastic gift card. Save the old ones you have and reload them if possible. Look for gift cards made from biodegradable or recycled materials. Speak out against disposable gift cards. And finally, ask businesses to collect and recycle those that unfortunately are no longer usable.
What have we got to lose?