E-Gift Cards Pushing Out Plastic Credit

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Electronic gift cards, which can be delivered via several platforms including Facebook and email, use far fewer resources than plastic cards.

Want to get rid of the plastic in your wallet? Try an electronic gift card.

Digital gift cards may be the first step to eliminating plastic payment and its environmental costs, say retail industry executives.

This rapidly growing segment of the gift card industry – Americans purchased six million e-cards in the last six months – spares natural resources by offering retail credit via online delivery. No plastic card, paper envelope, packaging or fuel for shipping.

“We’re not going to get rid of plastic overnight,” says Kathleen Goodwin, vice president of marketing at CashStar, a digital gift technology company. “But there are so many advantages for retailers.”

And going green is certainly one of them, she says, adding that for the Container Store and several other CashStar clients, e-cards’ smaller environmental footprint was a major draw.

Consumers say it’s appealing, too. A 2010 holiday survey by CashStar found that 60 percent of shoppers were more likely to buy a digital gift card instead of a plastic one due to environmental concerns. (The main audience that cited green as a deciding factor: fortysomething women who handle the household purse strings.)

As consumers grow more comfortable with digital credit overall, retail executives expect more of the gift card market to go digital.

Meanwhile, plastic still clogs the majority of the gift card market. According to the National Gift Card Corporation, manufacturers churn out 10 billion new plastic gift cards annually, Most are made from PVC (polyvinyl chloride) or corn starch-based PLA (polylactic acid, which like other materials generally fails to biodegrade in a landfill due to lack of oxygen).

Eco-minded businesses do have a new alternative to plastic gift cards. Major paper manufacturer Monadnock Paper Mills recently released a durable, recyclable paper card made with FSC-certified wood fibers.

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