Gift Card Grumble

Have I mentioned how much I despise gift cards? The mere sight of the rack full of them at the grocery store sends me into such a rage that I have to plan my route through the store to avoid them. All the resources that go into making that plastic card wasted after a single swipe—if it ever gets swiped at all—infuriates me as much as the effing phone book.

According to, NINE THOUSAND TONS of plastic go into making the 1.6 billion gift cards we give (throw) away every bleeping year. More than 30 thousand tons of CO2 added to our atmosphere a year, just so we can say, “hey, I wanted to make sure you spend my hard-earned money at BigCorp, instead of investing your local community.”

I do get the appeal. Cold, hard cash has somehow become tacky, much like the ugly Christmas sweater. And gift cards are just so easy to pick up. I trip over (or steer myself away from) more gift card racks than ATMs on any given day. I swear I saw one in my sock drawer the other day. Or maybe I’ve been hitting the egg nog a little too hard.

Beyond convenience, they also convey a subtle “I-get-you” message. By giving you this card I recognize that you’re a Ross-Starbucks-Nordstrom-Target-Victoria’s Secret-or Patagonia kind of person.

Sure, in the ancient days of my youth, such sentiments were inscribed in a relic called a greeting card. Hallmark sentiments cost a few bucks nowadays, but the gift card itself is “freeeeee,” which is as outrageous a notion as “free” shipping. There’s nothing flipping free, from Earth’s perspective, about container ships, airplanes and delivery trucks moving our Asian-made goods around the world. But I digress. My favorite hobby.

All of which means I never buy gift cards. Except, of course, when I do. I picked one up today, along with a truckload of self-loathing, because it’s what the foster child we “adopted” for Christmas wants. She asked for a few practical things, which I also bought, and suggested several varieties of gift cards. I planned to give her cash in lieu of any gift card, until I found myself tossing that Wild Wings card into my cart. She’s 17, collecting things for her about-to-begin life as an independent adult, and the Mom part of me wants to ensure that she spends at least some money on FUN.

And also because I have all the discipline of Homer Simpson around jelly donuts.

If only I’d heard of GiftRocket before I tossed that piece of plastic environmental desecration into my cart. A GiftRocket is a digital egift card, and unliked Amazon ecards, it can be redeemed at any business in the US—including local businesses (be still my heart). GiftRocket givers can suggest a business, thus satisfying the “I see you” appeal, which recipients can choose to honor or select another option. All my groans of “ugh-more-technology-to-learn” aside, I like it.

What I like even more is walking down to my favorite local restaurant, buying a (compostable) paper gift certificate. Which is what I’ll do for the gift exchange next week. And maybe I’ll enjoy a cold glass of something while I’m there, to celebrate my eco-saintliness. Chat with the owners, who have seen our kids grow from tots to teens, about all the family news. Now that’s something that neither the etailers nor the retailers can offer.

Happy holidaze!


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