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PVC cards become PVC pipes

Credit cards

The majority of credit, gift, store, membership, library, public transport subscriptions, loyalty, tickets are made of PVC, a readily-recyclable material, although alternative plastic and cardboard options are available.

PVC cards have their advantages in being able to carry magnetised data strips, smart card chips; being durable, not easy to break, all-weather, capable of carrying very high quality print in the form of images and text and looking very professional. It increases the changes of the card being kept for a longer time.

In the U.K. alone, already worth £5.6bn a year, the market for PVC gift and store cards continues to grow. Around two billion cards are produced each year – equivalent to 2,500 tonnes of PVC.

But what happens when these cards do reach their end of life? Cards can bend, break, fade or just expire beyond their due dates. The lifecycle of a typical gift or store card tends to be short and some don’t even reach stores as branding or marketing offers change. This redundant or out-of-date stock is invariably left sitting in warehouses. Most cards are redeemed in store and thrown away, where they end up in landfill.

Recognising the disposal challenge, a digital marketing agency and gift card producer, in the U.K., decided to explore a take-back scheme and specialist recycling system as part of their Green Gift Card initiative. Early research led to the agency partnering with the British Plastics Federation (BPF) to test the recycling concept with a low-volume trial using mobile phone sim card bodies.

Cards chippedThis material was reprocessed by a specialist recycler. Having proved successful, a larger PVC gift card trial was set up to research an environmentally-friendly disposal solution.

The retailer had been left with approximately one million old and out-of-date cards, having recalled all their plastic store cards. 25 pallets holding the PVC and PETG cards were manually separated from the cardboard carriers and sorted into material types.

The PVC cards were reprocessed into granules to make irrigation pipes. As well as providing employment for low-skilled workers, the scheme proved that PVC store cards can be recycled successfully and, in this instance, prevented 10 tonnes of plastic being landfilled.

Having proved the concept, investment in infrastructure is the next step. This includes a collection hub for PVC cards, including those redeemed in store, near to the recycler so that material can be transferred in bulk loads to minimise transportation costs. The scheme could be extended to other types of cards, such as loyalty cards and hotel key cards.

Jane Gardner, Principal Consultant, Axion Consulting said: “This is an excellent example of how a ‘short-life’ PVC product like a gift card can be recycled into a ‘long-life’ one such as pipes. As the first trial of its type, we have shown that gift cards can be recycled successfully and our aim is to eventually extend the scheme to more companies.”