If it means not receiving that blender, sweater or strange-smelling candle…again…then a gift card as an alternative to the usual unwanted presents sure seems appealing. But you eco-minded consumers might not like what happens to that card after you spend all the funds.
Chances are, if you hand over a spent gift card to the store clerk it will probably get chucked in the (gasp!) trash and end up in a landfill. Rarely do stores reuse depleted gift cards. And what are you supposed to do with that piece of plastic if you keep it?
Unfortunately, most recycling centers won’t accept gift cards. Many gift cards are made from a polyvinyl chloride (PVC)-based material, which isn’t widely recycled. To make it worse, PVC (which is also found in tons of commercial items from food packaging to window cleaner bottles) is a toxic substance that contains chlorine. While some retailers have switched to using biodegradable, corn-based materials in their gift cards, PVC-laden gift cards are still frequently sold.
What’s an eco-gift card spender to do?
Recycle it—sort of
While you can’t recycle gift cards using conventional means, one company will take your castoff cards. EarthWorks System LLC, a PVC recycling company, works to reduce clogging landfills with the yearly 75 million pounds of PVC material that enter the waste stream by producing cards made from recycled PVC material.
While producing more PVC, even the recycled variety, many not seem like the best eco-option to you, it’s better than creating more virgin PVC. Consumers can send their used gift cards to EarthWorks by filling out this form.
Pay it forward. Why not simply recharge that card and give it to a loved one as a “just because” gift? You can also recharge your gift cards and use them (and their online tracking features) yourself as a helpful tool to manage your budget.
With a little searching on Etsy, an online marketplace for handmade and vintage goods, you can find artisans who re-craft used gift cards into jewelry. These resourceful sellers would likely be happy to take those used gift cards off your hands. And you can feel good that your un-recyclable plastic will be fashioned into something beautiful.
A few Etsy sellers who make recycled gift card jewelry:
image: Kirsten Hudson
Follow Kirsten on Twitter @kirsten_hudson