Wednesday, February 10, 2010

What's in your wallet?

When did I move to Vermont? Oh, I guess I didn't - we wouldn't be cooped up in our houses in Vermont - they know what to do with all this snow. It's another story here - no one knows what to do with it all. We got 30+ inches in the last storm over the weekend, and another storm hit us last night - it is still snowing. I finally got out yesterday and took Peanut to the farmers market to run around with her friends and get some vittles.

The streets feel like rural gravel and dirt roads - even some of the main streets are still snow packed and rutted. People are either driving like they are petrified, or absolutely insane. I had to swerve to miss a guy driving in the center of our bumpy, icy neighborhood road, cigarette in one hand, cell phone in the other, going a good 20 miles over the speed limit. On the flip side, getting onto the highway after a woman going 3 miles an hour flashing her brakes the whole way was no picnic either.

Today it seems that everyone has given up. We are all still in our pjs. Peanut is sitting in front of the TV. Most days, that magic box isn't turned on until 4pm if at all. Our neighbor who was out there shoveling every few hours the last storm is no where to be seen today. The plows have driven by, but the plows are raised. It's hump day, and we have all decided to wait it out this week and start fresh Monday.

What else is there to do except clean and organize? Pumpkin is growing so fast I can barely keep up with him. I take stuff out of his closet and unload a new box of the next size in. Thank goodness for friends and family with clothes to pass on! I try to pass on as much as we can too, so now I have baby clothes all over our bed - nice little piles "consignment", "freecycle", "donate", "for baby ___", which is great except that the piles will stay until any of the takers can come and get them. So my attempts to be more organized are thwarted - I have just created more junk that is out in the open instead of neatly hidden in a closet.

We did finish our taxes, and cleaned out a bunch of old files. I closed out a whole slew of store credit cards yesterday. I am going to be excited on the day (in the very far future) when i can pull a credit report that won't be 50 pages of stuff. Once these accounts get purged we should have a nice short clean document. (WARNING - do not try this if you are in any way looking to take out a loan in the near future - they HATE it when you have multiple closed accounts) This credit purge is just the next step in greening our lives - we've been going to paperless billing on anything we can, and really don't shop in the stores we had cards for that often, if at all. Many of the accounts I closed hadn't been used in a few years. As I piled up these old cards to be shredded, it occurred to me that we are wasting an awful lot of plastic with everyone getting new cards issued every year or two for almost everything. We have gift cards, insurance cards, credit cards, membership cards.... Where do they go and what can we do with them besides chuck 'em?

Most gift cards and credit cards are made from PVC, much of it virgin. Of course, PVC is not the most environmentally friendly material to start with, so either having card made from something else or cards made from old used cards are the best options. Some companies are using corn based plastics, biodegradable cards, and electronic gift cards. Most of us will chop up our credit cards so we can protect our information - these can still be recycled. Once they are used and there is no $ value remaining, gift cards are not a threat to your security or identity. Instead of leaving them in a drawer or your wallet or tossing them in the trash, consider reusing or recycling them. Earthworks is a company that will accept and recycle your plastic cards. They also provide companies with recycled material for gift cards, so green businesses can take advantage of this and avoid contributing further to the PVC pile up. Some stores are now accepting their old cards back for recycling as well, but be sure you ask as many will just toss them in the trash.

So what can you do? Use cash. Avoid those cards if you can, but if you must, there are some ways you can make an impact. Reload the cards you do use - no one needs a new Starbucks or Barnes and Noble card every holiday season. Next time you buy or use a gift card, ask the store about the material it is made from and whether they accept them back for recycling. Who has time (or the chutzpah) to do this? Well, how else can you make a change except by making the time to do it? I called three companies today to ask about the gift cards in my wallet. JC Penny had no idea whether their cards were PVC or recycled or another more earth friendly material. The customer service representative did say the cards can be reloaded, but he also said that they do not recycle their cards, they just toss 'em. The person I spoke with at Gap, said there is something special about their cards but she did not know what it was. Their online site reports that Gap has developed gift cards made with 88% recycled content. Gap gift cards can be reloaded and recycled, and the Gap stores will also accept your other cards for recycling. I spoke with a sweet Starbucks representative who said they are working on this issue, but have yet to find either an alternative to PVC for their cards nor enough locations for recycling. Of course, you can reload your Starbucks card. In my very brief search online, I found that you really have to dig to find out information about this. Companies who do use alternative materials and recycle their cards should be shouting it from the rooftops. Instead it is hidden beneath a bunch of other random corporate policies.

The idea of sending your credit card off to be recycled is a little scarier, although really, how is it better to throw it in the trash? Ask your bank for your debit and credit cards; do they use alternative materials, can you continue to use the same card forever, do they accept them back for recycling? When you look in your wallet, you will realize there are plastic cards galore - membership cards, licenses, grocery club cards, library cards... Talk to your gym manager about their membership cards, your county about the library card, your grocery store, the DMV. If you work in a store or company that uses or provides cards of any kind, bring it up to the management. Discuss it with your friends and family and resolve to coordinate gifting so as not to add cards. Use the service the Gap offers and drop off all your used gift cards there for recycling! In my wallet alone there are over 4 ounces of PVC cards. It may not seem like much, but it adds up fast. The number I've seen thrown around is 75 million pounds of PVC from cards goes into the waste stream every year. Let's try to make that way less!

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