Over the past year, the humble plastic straw has been drawing much attention as an environmental hazard, clogging everything from oceans to landfills. Numerous restaurants across the nation have already discontinued using them, or are offering them only upon request. Both McDonald’s and Starbucks have plans to begin phasing out plastic straws and will roll out a paper straw alternative in 2020 – if not sooner. Can this trend be applied to gift cards as well? We have started to see more and more retailers switch from plastic gift card production to paper. I recently spoke to Rich Olson, from Optimum Card Solutions, who listed the 5 most important benefits you (and the planet!) can gain from the switch.


#1 Sustainability

Stunning stats: There are 5 to 7 billion PVC (plastic) cards produced annually. 35- to 45,000 tons go into landfills each year. Now consider that it takes only 200,000 cards to equal one ton – about the size of one small automobile! But here’s the good news: For every 500 paper gift cards produced instead of plastic, 5.5 pounds of non-biodegradable PVC are saved from going into landfills.

#2 Cost

According to Optimum Card Solutions, their paper card production process is more streamlined than the typical multi-stepped PVC process. Producing paper cards consists of just one single step. It’s that easy…and that much more cost-effective!

#3 Aesthetics

Since paper has been printed long before plastic cards, there are more tools and technology to spice up the paper gift card designs. Enhance your brand’s image with such options as embossing, debossing, foil, and special inks like glitter, kinetic movement, soft touch, and raised varnishes – all costing far less than plastic cards. “We got the idea from wine bottles that have different types of treatments,” Mr. Olson said. For example, if you emboss a paper gift card, the other side will show no indentation and the card will lay perfectly flat. How cool is that?

#4 Performance

Out of the billions that are out there, no failures with paper gift cards have ever been reported.

#5 Industry Trend

Over the past eight years, multiple brands have switched to paper gift cards, with outdoor clothing retailer REI being one of the first adopters. Others include Amazon, Best Buy, and Apple.

Will plastic cards go the way of plastic straws? Will paper gift cards take over the gift card industry? Out of all the many benefits paper gift cards can offer to brand’s, Mr. Olson ensured me there were no risks involved. It will be interesting to see where paper gift cards will take us!