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  • Jenny Hill

Reconsider Gift Cards

It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the end-of-the-year holidays–busy schedules, parties and family gatherings, expectations to perform extraordinary feats of baking, decorating and shopping. Sustainability may feel like just one more detail that’s too much to factor in. Never fear! Remember even small steps make a big difference.

Gift cards are an important go-to for many gift-givers. It can be a great solution to let the gift recipient do the choosing/shopping. The sustainability pivot comes not from turning away from all gift cards, but rather from steering clear of gift cards made of plastic.

Most gift cards (upwards of 70%) are made of polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastic that is poisonous to manufacture, not accepted by curbside or local recycling programs, and therefore creates hazardous waste. But a gift card is just a little piece of plastic, you may think. But 3.4 billion of those little pieces were sold in the United States in 2021. Beyond Plastics, a Vermont-based organization that seeks to end plastic pollution, has more details about the hazards of plastics gift cards.

Which is not to say don’t use gift cards at all. Some companies use paper for their gift cards and almost all companies have an electronic, or eGift, card version available.

But if you are interested in alternatives to any kind of gift card, Beyond Plastics has compiled a great list of gift-giving alternatives. On the list is one of my favorites–give local. Here are some ideas on how to do just that.

Give Local

  • Shop local and you have the triple win of 1) reducing the carbon footprint of shopping 2) boosting the local economy and 3) running into someone you know. As for boosting the local economy, the Institute for Self-Reliance states it best in this ripple-effect description: “Local retailers hire local people, pay local taxes and source goods locally. When you shop local, you expand opportunity where you live.”

  • Support local non-profits: food shelves, animal shelters, schools, environmental organizations, theater or other arts groups, faith-based organizations all welcome donations. Give one in someone’s name and give them a (paper) card to let them know you did.

  • Purchase gift memberships: local nature organizations, State Park permits and State recreation (e.g. ski) passes. Love your local radio stations? Share the love! Here are a few of our favorites:


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