A couple of years ago, Little Miss Green won an art competition for designing a Christmas card. Her prize was a £10 voucher for WHSmiths, which was a wonderful prize for a 5 year old. So much loot to spend at once!
She headed straight for the chocolate selection boxes, with a glint in her eye and bought some colouring pens too. She spent all her money in 5 seconds flat and I added the extra few pence to her spendings.
I was thinking about this the other day as the last pen ran out and thought about the voucher. It wasn’t the traditional paper voucher that you handed to the cashier. This was the first time I had come face to face with a plastic voucher card. At the time, long before I had an interest in zero waste, I thought it was a wonderful idea. Little Miss Green loved it because it was like a grown up credit card.
When I was sorting out one of my shelves earlier this year, I came across the card again. The idea behind them is that you hang onto them and put more money on them. But I threw ours away. I mean, if I’m going to take her to WHSmiths to buy something, then I’m there and she doesn’t need her own card. If I send her out with someone else to buy something, then I can provide the cash before she leaves the house.
The plastic bank card recently celebrated its 40th Birthday and now there are more plastic cards than ever. I remember back to the days of doing the weekly grocery shopping with Grandma and Granddad Green and I’m sure they only had one plastic card with a delirious transaction limit of £50. We never reached the floor limit of course!
Plastic cards fall out left, right and centre of my own purse when I open it. I have debit cards, ATM cards, top up cards, loyalty cards, dvd rental cards, membership cards, driving license, library cards (one for each county because I live on the border of two) and chip ‘n’ pin cards.
Every few years these cards run out and end up shredded or cut up and put into the landfill by millions of us across the world.
In some stores now, when you buy a voucher for someone, you end up with a prepaid plastic card, just like the one Little Miss Green was given a couple of years back.
How many of us will honestly go and re-credit the card? You can hardly give it back to Great Aunt Fanny and ask her to top it up for you, can you?
So the idea of a reuseable card might be a good one in theory, but I have a sneaking suspicion these prepaid gift cards are a one-use disposable item with a big-brother side to them.
Those pesky plastic cards store all sorts of information about you. When you hand over a paper voucher, it isn’t linked to anything. You just hand it over and go on you way; as beautifully anonymous as you were when you walked in.
Once you hand over a plastic card however, that black strip across the back will be tagging what you bought, when you bought it, along with your age and your inside leg measurement (well, you know what I mean) and will start recording any patterns in your spending so that the company can target you with their advertising.
But that’s for another time……….
At least paper vouchers can be made from recycled paper and can be recycled at the end of their use. The trouble with plastic cards is that most are made from polyvinyl chloride (PVC), a petroleum-based plastic that contains a variety of toxic chemicals.
Just like most of the other plastics in the world, it sits around for a few hundred years leaching toxins and jamming up the landfill. I guess it doesn’t matter, these cards are only tiny right? Well, yes they are, but in 2006, almost 17 billion plastic cards were produced and where will they end up in a few years time?
There are alternative materials for ‘plastic cards’ such as corn based poly lactic acid (PLA) plastic. This biodegrades in 82 days, but not in the landfill. Plus, I’m just not comfortable with all these plastics and fuels made from edible crops when half the world is starving. It weighs heavy on my soul. It seems ironic that we allow people to starve, while we use their food to fuel our long haul flights and clock up our credit cards.
Polyethylene terephthalate glycol (PETG) is already in use with a few companies. You might recognise that name from the bottom of your milk bottles. At least it is readily recycleable. But wait for it; it costs 20% more than PVC, so most companies won’t use them. Until we all start looking at the bigger picture ‘cost’ to things, then I guess we’re stuck with PVC.
So, now that you have a dozen of the things clogging up your wallet, I guess it’s good to reuse them before you asign them to the landfill.
1- Give them to your kids to play shops
2- Keep one in your toolkit for grouting walls or applying filler (thanks Diz!)
3- Cut them up for guitar picks or poker chips
4- keep one in the car as an ice scraper
To change the way for the future, take a look at all the cards you use and see whether you need them all. Do you need separate bank accounts, each with their own card? Do I need membership to two libraries? (no I don’t; I use just one). Do you use the dvd place regularly?
Why not write to the companies you use and ask them if they are considering a change to their policies and next time you buy someone a gift voucher, boycott the place if they try to give you a plastic card and tell them you’re going to go somewhere that will give you some good old fashioned paper. Alternatively, stick a tenner in the card instead – there’s still something great about receiving real money 😉