The carbon footprint of physical gift cards

Leif BaradoyAugust 12, 2013

In 2013, physical gift cards have an estimated annual CO2 footprint of 585,300 tons. That’s more than all the daily air flights in Europe combined.

What’s worse is that 8%-19% of all gift cards go unused. There are many digital options for sending a gift card; digital gift cards have a significantly reduced footprint compared to physical cards, so the environmental impact of gifting could easily be reduced.

Total CO2: 585,300 tons

More Impacts than just Carbon Footprint

PCV cards weigh 5.07 g. 10 billion gift cards created annually equal 50,700 tons of plastic that will either enter a landfill, be incinerated, or require additional energy and production costs to recycle. “What’s the carbon footprint of your credit card?”

Taken from “What is the Environmental Impact of Plastic Gift Cards” Infographic produced by giftdish.com.

car

  • 2.3 million trees needed to offset CO2 from production and transport of gift cards from 2005-2012.
  • 2012 production, packaging, transport of gift cards equivalent to 14,560 cars
  • In 2012, 37 million L (10,000,000 gal) of water needed to produce and package gift cards

Other Physical Gift Card Statistics

One of the top hits on Google regarding the environmental impact of waste is this Gift Rocket infographic. This group also uses the information from MacDonald’s article, but their estimates on the size of the gift card market are too small. They use the total size of the market (in 2009) $80 billion for the whole year but divide by an average for the Christmas season of $50/card. Most sources cite 10 billion gift cards (17 billion plastic cards including credit cards and phone cards). TowerGroup’s estimate that the number of gift cards sold in 2012 would measure 5,318,813 miles long assumes the sale of 10 billion gift cards, although it seems unlikely that this is US only as they state.