Gift cards can be criticized for being just like cash but less convenient. Some people wonder why they don’t give cash.
Gift cards are more personal and flexible than cash. They also offer the recipient the option to choose what they want to buy. Gift cards can be used to avoid wrapping and boxes as well as reducing waste by reducing the purchase of unwanted gifts. Gift cards can also reduce waste if they are used to purchase an experience rather than an object. A gift card could be used to purchase a meal at a restaurant or a massage.
Gift cards can be resold if the recipient doesn’t want cash or if the recipient didn’t make an effort to personalize the gift. The GiftPocket app (www.GiftPocket.comYou can upload unwanted gift cards and exchange them for your desired ones. Brooke Yoakam, founder and CEO of GiftPocket, says that about 3% of gift certificates never get redeemed. To put this in perspective, that’s about $6.63 billion lost each year, which is approximately 3% of $221 trillion.
Retailers have many reasons for promoting gift cards with prominent in-store displays, in addition to the potential benefits of a 3% loss. Retailers are looking to reduce returns and so involve the recipients in the gift selection process. Gift certificates are available until they are redeemed. Some retailers charge a fee and companies can also benefit from interest-free financing. Gift cards that are given in December attract customers to restaurants and stores during slower months like January and February. A gift card can be even more valuable as a customer will likely spend more than its face value and may bring along a friend to make a purchase.
Finally, a gift certificate is a form advertisement. You are giving the vendor a prompt every time you see a gift card in you wallet.
Some companies use virtual gift cards to avoid the need for physical cards and make their marketing more environmentally-conscious. Outlaw, which sells personal care products online and in stores like Whole Foods, offers gift cards made of paper but is switching to digital cards online. CEO Danielle Vincent stated that a plastic gift card would not be compatible with the company’s efforts. They currently sell packaging lotions and body wash only in aluminum bottles. These are enclosed in boxes made of uncoated, recyclable, and recycled-content cardboard or papersboard.
Another local retailer, which combines an environmental ethos and personal care product sales, tried a different alternative for plastic gift cards. The Refill Shoppe in Ventura also offered digital gift cards online. Gift cards were printed on paper with wildflower seeds embedded. Michele Stevens, owner of the company, is working to correct the formatting error and write her address manually. Her website contains a photo of the card and the words, “Plant and water this card after you use it to grow wildflowers.”
Cards are usually made from polyvinylchloride (or PVC plastic). According to Grematters.com, PVC poses a danger to the environment and human health at all stages of its lifecycle. Greenmatters.com cites the Greenpeace report that PVC is the most environmentally harmful of all plastics.
PVC cards can’t be recycled in any local curbside or commercial recycling programs. Placing these cards in local recycling facilities can cause paper to be contaminated, which can lower the value of recyclables.
Terracycle charges $167 per Zero Waste box. Cards can be mailed to Terracycle if you are determined to recycle. Terracycles prepaid return label allows recyclers to send Terracycle gift cards as well as identification cards, credit cards, and key cards.
David Goldstein, Environmental Resource Analyst with the Ventura County Public Works Agency, can be reached at 805-658-4312 or [email protected].