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June 15, 2011

Give the Gift, Ditch the Card

Gift Rocket redeem buttonGift cards are all the craze these days. They're fast, easy, and convenient for whomever you're giving them to. But admit it: Plastic is practically a four-letter word.

Don't fret. GiftRocket, a start-up company, takes the card out of gift cards. And the product works for almost all businesses, even those that don't normally offer gift cards. How does it work? Log onto GiftRocket, then choose a dollar amount for a particular place, and name the recipient. Your recipient then gets an email about the gift. With a smartphone in hand, the recipient heads to the store or restaurant, and redeems your generous gesture via the press of a button. After that, your recipient gets a PayPal credit to cover the cost.

Launched in March, the original idea behind GiftRocket was to give the gift-card concept more flexibility and customization. But now that the service is up and running, it's proving to be a green alternative to gift giving: "The way we thought about it was that we all had friends in different cities and when their birthdays or graduations came along, we wanted a convenient way to send them a meaningful gift," said GiftRocket co-founder Kapil Kale. "We didn't like physical gift cards because they get lost or forgotten. I'm pretty sure I have a drawer full of them at home. The eco-friendliness came along with this idea."

One plastic card might not seem like much. One analysis found that cards with PVC translate into a carbon footprint of 21 grams, or the amount of gas needed to drive a Hummer 150 feet.

But considering that a typical plastic gift card lasts up to only three years before getting buried in a landfill -- and the fact that we go through so many of them -- the green rap on these plastic pleasures isn't so good.

The gift-card industry rakes in more than $80 billion a year. GiftRocket estimates that in the U.S., about 1.6 billion plastic gift cards are produced and shipped yearly, using more than 8,500 tons of PVC. Kale's number-crunching found that gift cards add up to more than 33,000 metric tons of atmospheric carbon -- never mind their everlasting lives in landfills.

"Maybe 100 million will be printed for Father's Day," Kale said. "The bigger problem is that people don't even think about the environmental impact of their purchase, since gift cards are so commonplace."

So if a gift card sounds good as a Father's Day gift, but Mother Nature's voice is ringing in your head, consider cutting the plastic out of the picture and going virtual.

-- Brian Foley

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