Gift Card Sustainability: What Your Program Needs to Know

By Topps Digital Services and Neenah

One of the biggest environmental issues we are facing today is the usage and disposal of single-use plastics. Over 300 million tons of single-use plastics are produced a year and it is weighing heavily on our planet. Topps Digital Services and our partners continue to look into substrate options in the gift card space that allow for the ability to recycle or compost cards so we are not contributing to the detrimental impact of plastics.

TDS has partnered with the premium paper manufacturer Neenah to discuss the importance of eco-friendly practices and what brands can do to make sure their gift card programs are sustainably managed.

The Problems with Plastic

Over the past 4 years, there has been increasing awareness surrounding the issue of single-use plastics, and the alarming rate they are accumulating in our oceans. Scientists tell us at the current rate, by 2050 there will be more plastic in our oceans than fish (by weight).

While recycling plastic seems like a potential solution, the reality is that recycling plastic is tricky as recycling guidelines vary by plastic type, by state and sometimes differ by your particular recycling collection company. Styrene and PVC are the most common types of plastic used in the gift card industry. Styrene is not recyclable in most cities and PVC is rarely accepted for recycling as it can contaminate the recycling process for other types of plastic. 

“The numbers are shocking – globally only 18% of all plastics are recovered for recycling. And, in the US, the numbers are much lower,” Doug Grever, National Sales Manager at Neenah explained. “There’s a wide belief that items placed in a municipal collection bin are automatically recycled. People are very disappointed to learn what happens to their intended recyclables. According to the US EPA, Only 4.4% of Recycled Plastic is recovered.”

So what can gift card programs do to stop using plastic?

Rethink the Gift Card: The Plastic to Paper Switch 

One potential solution to reduce plastic gift card usage is switching from plastic to paper substrates. According to Grever, using Neenah’s paper gift cards increases recyclability (paper can be recycled up to 7 times), while also greatly reducing fossil fuel consumption. Quality paper substrates have come a long way in the gift card space. Many people may be surprised to find out that a gift card in their wallet that they thought was plastic is actually made out of paper. 

Beyond ensuring that materials are ethically and sustainably sourced, there are some more barriers that companies typically encounter before making the switch. Grever states

“The biggest challenge is to educate stakeholders that it’s possible to get a paper substrate that feels like plastic and has all the benefits of paper. This is especially true in the gift card world, where reliability and performance are a substrate’s most important attributes.

The endorsement of the card manufacturing partner is the other key element to a successful switch. Producing a quality gift card is a highly technical process, and it’s critical that managers choose a substrate that performs both on the production floor and on peg at retail.”

How to Get Started 

By this point you may be wondering how your program can choose a paper alternative. Grever advises to focus on several factors you may want to consider before finalizing your decision. Topps Digital Services or your printer can help you navigate through these factors: 

 

  • Construction – choose a material that matches your desired look/feel of the finished card and works well with your card manufacturing partner’s processes.

 

 

  • Printability – Not all papers are created equal. They vary widely in color and shade, so careful sampling and evaluation of printing, coatings and decorative treatments should be done on the actual paper.

 

  • Labels/Scratch offs – It’s essential to choose adhesives designed for use with paper as plastics have different surface characteristics.
  • Magnetic Stripes – Make sure the paper works with the card manufacturer’s application methods. Also, be aware these may impact the ability to recycle a paper card.
  • Affixing – Paper has different release properties than plastic, so fugitive glues may need to be adjusted to ensure both security and a clean release from a backer.

Many of Topps Digital Services clients use NEENAH Imagemax® Paper for their gift cards. This paper includes post-consumer fiber and is recyclable, while maintaining superior print performance and durability. Always remember if you are making the switch from plastic to paper to order new drawdowns on the paper substrate (for more on this topic, visit our blog post about color). Additionally, keep in mind that the best 3rd party formats for paper are M6 no-snap or card on carrier (M6 snap still has some challenges creating a clean snap on paper). 

Not fully convinced about making the switch? Or are you ready and need help managing it? Reach out to our print production team for more information.

Thanks to Doug Grever and Neenah for their insights on print sustainability. You can learn more about Neenah at NeenahPaper.com.

Doug Grever has over 25 years of experience in the paper and packaging industry and is National Sales Manager for Neenah, a global manufacturer of specialty papers. Neenah is at the forefront of creating high performance paper alternatives to plastics for applications ranging from gift cards to wide format printing. Doug is enthusiastic and passionate about helping companies achieve their corporate sustainability goals.

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