Whole Story

The Official Whole Foods Market® Blog

A Better Gift Card

By Chris Jensen, December 14, 2009  |  Meet the Blogger  |  More Posts by Chris Jensen
giftcard3One of our core values at Whole Foods Market is to care about our environment. As such, we set out a few months ago to give our new gift cards a fresh look, including our limited edition "peas on earth" holiday design. One of our primary goals was to find a more environmentally sound substrate on which to print the cards. You might not think about it, especially given the small size and long life of your plastic cards, but the volume of cards out there creates an enormous impact! Most of the 17 billion plastic cards produced every year1 are made of virgin PVC. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Americans use more than 1.5 billion credit cards alone, which if stacked would reach 70 miles into space2! When these cards expire, we just throw them away, contributing more than 75 million pounds of PVC to the waste stream every year3! We thought there had to be a better way. And while there is, we quickly learned that there is no perfect solution. We examined dozens of different substrates, from recycled PVC to cards made out of wood to PLA-based biodegradable cards. There's even a PVC-based substrate that biodegrades! But we found none of these to be the silver bullet. One of our primary criteria was that the substrate had to perform. We loved the idea of using a resilient paper, but then realized that one time through the washing machine and the gift card (and all of the info about the value on that card) would be gone. So we looked to more conventional materials. giftcard2 We considered a PVC substrate that biodegrades, but we couldn't get enough info about the safety of the substance that causes the PVC to breakdown, nor do we know what happens to the PVC once it biodegrades. A good option, perhaps, but not great. We also thought long and hard about a PLA-based card, made from corn, which would biodegrade in an industrial composter at 130°F degrees (though we've not had luck breaking them down in our own backyards). Unfortunately, all of the PLA based options out there are made from GMO corn. Even those that claim to be GMO-free still come from plants with GMOs in the protein in the plants. So we ruled PLA-based cards out. Eventually, we were able to locate a vendor who can take back our spent gift cards and recycle them into new gift cards. Although the cards are still made of PVC, they are now made almost entirely from a combination of post-consumer and post-industrial recycled plastic. We are excited that customers can now bring us their old gift cards, and we can recycle (not downcycle) them into new cards, thereby closing the loop. It's not perfect, we know, but it is a step in the right direction. We've also gotten rid of the cardboard backings to which we used to affix our cards and replaced it with an optional mini-shopping bag that is made from 100% post-consumer recycled FSC-certified paper. giftcard1Our hope is that in the near future we'll find a better solution. Given the size of the industry, and the demand for more environmentally friendly solutions out there, we are sure that this will happen. We will continue to work with our supplier, and our colleagues in the industry, to push for this better option. In the mean time, we're doing our part to keep this plastic out of the landfill, and in turn, to live our core values. So when you give our gift cards, you can share all of this with your recipient so they know that you are on top of the environmental aspects of everything...or not. You could just smile and say "happy holidays" knowing that you've done your part.
1 International Card Manufacturers Association 2http://greeninc.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/02/23/making-credit-cards-landfill-friendly/ 3 Earthworks Systems

 

11 Comments

Comments

Dionne says ...
So I was interested in knowing if Whole Foods stance on PLA means that you believe that PVC is actually a better alternative then PLA. PLA is derived entirely from annually renewable resources like corn, making it an environmentally preferable option to petroleum-based plastic. PVC consumer products also present a hazard to consumers. Plasticisers are not bound to the plastic and can leach out over time. PLA contributes 40 percent less greenhouse gases to the atmosphere than traditional plastic materials. The process of PLA allows all genetic content to be removed so that the finial product is GMO free. Also some PLA manufacturers allow you to purchase resin that is certified as having no "genetic content," participate in a source off-set program for non-genetically modified maize purchases, or purchase identity-preserved GMO-free specified seed-to-finished-product traceability. PLA to me seems like a step in the right direction, especially since it takes us in the direction of being less dependent on petroleum based products.
02/08/2010 10:02:00 AM CST
Margo says ...
I'm impressed that you considered so many options for your green gift cards. I'm grateful that you did not chose the corn-based option. Based on my personal research, I believe that so much corn is being used from developing countries that the poor people of these nations (many with corn-based diets), cannot afford their staple. I think going green is admirable, but not if it leaves people hungry. Thinking of a starving child who is in this condition partly because of my possible ethanol purchase makes me weep. Again, kudos for all the options and for leading the way.
12/14/2009 5:38:26 PM CST
jensenc says ...
@Thien-Kim: thank you for your question. We can accept other store's gift cards for recycling, and we'd be happy to do so! The more cards kept out of landfill, the better off we'll all be!
12/16/2009 11:10:22 AM CST
claire says ...
This is awesome! A also love your holiday paper bag! Please check out my blog entry today -- I found many uses to recycle/upcycle the Whole Foods paper bag :)
12/16/2009 4:19:49 PM CST
Thien-Kim says ...
Wow, had no idea so much thought went into your gift cards. Will you be accepting other stores gift cards for recycling too?
12/14/2009 10:35:53 PM CST
Debbie says ...
I was glad to read about your recyclable gift cards. Where can we bring them in the store? Do you have a box set up somewhere like where you have the place to recycle batteries and such?
01/28/2010 7:51:30 PM CST
jensenc says ...
@ Dionne: Thanks for your note. We don’t believe that PVC is superior to PLA, and we are actively working to find a functional and sustainable renewable packaging material. However, we have chosen not to support the use of Polylactide (PLA) plastics as they are generally made from genetically modified (GMO) corn. We believe that products genetically modified crops should not be marketed as a environmentally advantageous in any way, and we will not actively support PLA plastics until they are available made directly from non-GMO or organic corn. While we do allow PLA packaging in products sold in our stores, we do not market them as a “green” or sustainable alternative to plastic packaging materials.
03/17/2010 10:01:21 AM CDT
Vic Palmer says ...
Why don't you just have instant emailable cards so you skip all the paper including the mailing and envelope? Lot's of places less progressive than you do this.
05/19/2010 4:40:41 PM CDT
N says ...
Why not offer Whole Foods cards back to customers? Some won't mind a used card.
12/26/2010 11:11:09 PM CST
Windy says ...
This design is incredible! You certainly know how to keep a reader entertained. Between your wit and your videos, I was almost moved to start my own blog (well, almost...HaHa!) Fantastic job. I really enjoyed what you had to say, and more than that, how you presented it. Too cool!
02/21/2013 5:23:47 AM CST
Michelle says ...
what about e-cards?
03/25/2014 5:46:30 PM CDT