Materials

Could a green solution for plastic gift vouchers be on the cards?

New collection solutions for the quickly growing phenomenon of store cards are to be investigated after a trial recycled over a million PVC store gift cards, saving 10 tonnes of plastic from being landfilled.

As anyone who has experienced Christmas or a birthday recently can attest, the UK market for PVC gift and store cards is growing, and is already worth around £5.6 billion a year. Around two million cards are produced each year – using about 2,500 tonnes of plastic.

Could a green solution for plastic gift vouchers be on the cards?
Around two million gift cards are produced in the UK every year.
Most of these cards are redeemed in store, but are then thrown away and sent to landfill, where they take decades to degrade and weathering from wind and rain can break off microplastic fragments that soak up pollutants and can escape into the environment, causing damage to wildlife and ecosystems.

Furthermore, the lifecycle of a typical store card tends to be short and some don’t even reach stores as branding or marketing offers change. This redundant or out-of-date stock is often left sitting in warehouses.

The RecoCard project, managed by resource recovery specialist Axion Consulting, was created by digital marketing agency Jellyfish Livewire to explore how a take-back and specialist recycling system for these cards could work.

Following a low-volume trial testing the recycling concept with mobile phone SIM-card bodies carried out with the British Plastics Federation, a larger PVC gift card trial was set up with B&Q to research an environmentally friendly disposal solution.

Rather than collecting cards that had been brought into stores by customers, the retailer provided one million PVC cards that had been recalled when it decided to replace them with cardboard vouchers. 25 pallets of PVC and PETG (glycol-modified polyethylene terephthalate) cards were manually separated and sorted at Jellyfish Livewire’s headquarters.

The material was then reprocessed by Berkshire-based specialist recycler RPCS (Rubber Plastic Collection Service) into granules to make irrigation pipes. Axion says that as well as ‘providing employment for low-skilled workers’ the project has shown that PVC store cards can be recycled successfully.

Could a green solution for plastic gift vouchers be on the cards?
The cards were sorted and shredded before being reprocessed.
Commenting on the trial, Jane Gardner, Principal Consultant, Axion Consulting said: “This is an excellent example of how a ‘short-life’ PVC product like a gift card can be recycled into a ‘long-life’ one such as pipes. As the first trial of its type, we have shown that gift cards can be recycled successfully and our aim is to eventually extend the scheme to more companies.”

And while B&Q’s move to replace the cards with more a environmental cardboard option suggests that many retailers could move away from PVC gift cards, Jellyfish Livewire’s Managing Director Graham Lycett commented: “There’ll always be a need for both cardboard and plastic cards. As long as we can close the loop for the plastic ones by offering a proper recycling scheme for PVC cards, I think we tick every box and provide retailers with a choice.”

With Axion stating that the B&Q trial has shown that the cards can be successfully recycled, it says the next step is to invest in infrastructure and create a collection hub for cards, including those redeemed in store, near to the recycler so that the material can be transferred in bulk loads.

The recycling specialist says that the scheme could also be extended to other types of cards, like loyalty cards and hotel key cards. Lycett added: “The UK gift card market is such a big part of our economy – all powered by a small plastic card.”

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