Gift cards are big business. In fact, by most estimates, gift card sales for 2012 will top out at around $91 billion in the U.S. At $25 per card, which is the most common gift card value sold, that is a whopping 3.64 billion cards.
While 95% of American adults have given or received a gift card, only about 20% choose to refill cards after the value has been expended. This leaves a lot of depleted cards headed to the trash. How often have you had a clerk ask, “Since this is empty, do you want me to throw it away?”
Gift cards are just one type of wallet-sized plastic card. About 17 billion total cards are produced to be used by American consumers each year, including gift, loyalty, discount, membership, debit, store charge, and credit cards. As a result, as much as 75 million pounds of plastic cards, most of it PVC, are discarded each year.
At least one company, Earthworks in Ohio, has begun to accept used plastic cards for recycling. The cards are recycled in a closed-loop process, with old cards melted and turned into the plastic sheets used to make new cards. Individuals can mail in empty or expired cards. However, Earthworks hopes to work with stores, hotels, and other businesses that would collect customer cards and send in larger quantities for recycling. To learn more about Earthworks, visit www.earthworkssystem.com.
Ask retailers whether they will accept your depleted cards for recycling. Other waste-reducing ideas include refilling existing gift cards and giving virtual or electronic gift certificates instead.
Also, be sure to use up the funds on your gift cards. The average amount left on cards is $2.30, which adds up to about $5 billion in unspent value each year!