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Sep 23, 2015

From Plastic to Sustainable Gift Cards

Customers and Retailers Become More Environmentally Conscious

Arlene Hauben

Renewability is a quality that is increasingly important for businesses, as 57 percent of the Fortune 500 are reporting on their environmental, social and governance impacts, according to the Gift Card Network Forest Materials Committee. The gift card industry is looking for ways to be more sustainable.

“The Forest Materials Committee is the only entity in the gift card space addressing the issue of sustainability in retail,” according to Martha Weaver, Gift Card Network director. This group is comprised of merchants, printers, processors, consultants and substrate manufacturers, joining forces to address the reasons that some merchants have not embraced greener substrates.

Consumers are becoming more environmentally conscious, so the ability for brands to offer gift cards made of greener substrates rather than plastic holds enormous appeal. Each year, more than 35 billion gift cards are manufactured globally.

Roughly three billion gift cards are sold each year, 99 percent of which are currently made of non-renewable PVC.  More than 20 major brands already have a paper card in the market, according to the Gift Card Network. One of the paper mills leading the effort is Monadnock Paper Mills, by developing renewable fiber replacements for plastic products, and bringing to market a new gift card offering.

“Until about five years ago, gift cards weren’t on our radar,” said Jim O’Rourke, senior sales manager at Monadnock Paper Mills, which specializes in custom solutions. “In fact, the initial thinking behind the innovation of the Envi gift card substrate came from the time we spent developing a plastic alternative for HDPE (high density polyethylene) tags in the horticultural market.”

Monadnock had worked on a paper alternative to the plastic tags that could not only withstand the temperature and moisture changes of the plant’s environment but, after it fell off the plant, in about 45 days, it would decompose.

Then a major gift card user came to Monadnock for a plastic alternative and the mill began to morph this innovation into a substrate for gift cards. “We went back to the drawing board and developed a fiber-based product that would match all the functionalities of the traditional PVC gift card – including accepting magnetic stripes, signature panels, embossing, and foil stamping.”

The development is considered an extraordinary engineering threshold that no paper mill had previously met, according to O’Rourke. The process is far from simple – with paper, you are working with organic cellulose fiber, and by its nature less stable than plastic.

Envi Card Stock – a Renewable Wood Fiber Replacement

Monadnock Paper Mills recently announced enhancements to its Envi Card Stock, a renewable wood fiber replacement for plastic gift and loyalty cards. In collaboration with Hazen Paper Company, the new gift cards offer a renewable, fiber-based alternative that is recyclable in the mixed paper bin.

“Nike has been using the card stock for a few years,” said O’Rourke.

The Envi Card has all the functional criteria of a plastic gift card, including accepting magnetic stripers, signature panels, embossing, and foil stamping, and can be made even more unique using tactile surface textures or eye-catching holographic elements.

To develop the paper substrate for the gift card, Monadnock had to make a product that would lay incredibly flat and stay that way, without changing dimensions, in varied environments all over the world, no matter what changes in temperature or humidity occurred. This was all coupled with the fact that the product had to be recyclable and had to be certified as such by third parties.

In addition, the process needed to be cost neutral when compared to the process using PVC. “Early on, we found that printing the gift cards on paper resulted in savings in process cost when compared with plastic,” noted O’Rourke. “We also had to work with card producers on finishing aspects of the card to help maximize their through put.”

Developing the paper gift card all happened about five years ago, and since then, Monadnock has produced paper well over two billion gift cards with zero failures in the market. The family-owned business remains committed to providing retailers with environmentally friendly and sustainable business solutions.

The Gift Card Network, based in Vancouver, WA, says it focuses on the identification of vital issues in the gift card industry and empowers its members to address these issues using connection, collaboration, and creativity.

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