Monday, February 18, 2013

Buy this, it's recycled!

In my post on recycling a couple of weeks ago, I mentioned EarthWorks, a company that collects expired gift cards, credit cards, library cards, and so forth, and recycles them into new ones. Today, while reading over that post, it occurred to me to pop back over to the EarthWorks site and see where their recycled cards are actually being used. The answer, it seems, is a bit hard to pin down: their "partners" page had a list of 11 companies on it, most of which I'd never heard of before. Most of them are not the actual stores that distribute gift cards, but rather companies that manufacture these cards for others. There were a few exceptions, including a small chain of restaurants in Duluth called Grandma's and a bookstore chain called Half Price Books (which I've really liked the few times I've visited it out in Indianapolis, but which unfortunately doesn't have any stores east of Ohio). However, the one that particularly caught my eye was a company called Metrohiker, which was described as follows:
The Metrohiker card is the most sustainable way to save cash. Cardholders get exclusive discounts at a wide variety of locally-owned, environmentally-friendly businesses in participating communities across the nation.
This sounded particularly intriguing, since it offered an opportunity to support local businesses, promote sustainability, and save money all at once. However, since I live in a small town that isn't particularly close to any large cities, I suspected that the card probably wouldn't offer any discounts in my area. Still, out of curiosity, I clicked through to the Metrohiker website to see if I could find any more details about the program.

Well, I couldn't. Oh, the company's home page promised "exclusive access to discounts at great businesses in your hometown, nationwide, and online," including "your favorite restaurants, vintage clothing stores, transportation services, and more"—but when I followed the link that said, "click here to learn more," all I got was a blurb about the company's goal "to promote healthy communities, environmental sustainability, and adventure." Hoping for some more particulars, I tried another link reading, "Still don't have any idea what Metrohiker is all about?  Learn more about how it works." How it works, apparently, is as follows:

  1. You sign up for a Metrohiker card. (No mention of how much it costs, and no amount of clicking on the site led me to this information, but a separate Google search eventually turned up the Metrohiker cardholder agreement, which says that the card costs $25 plus $3 shipping, is good for one year, and may not be shared with anyone else.)
  2. You go to businesses that are partners with Metrohiker. (Again, no mention of what those businesses are or where they are located—and I had no luck trying to find this information indirectly through Google.)
  3. They give you discounts. (The site doesn't say how much, and Google couldn't help me dig up this information.)

The most specific information the site provides about its program is a list of cities in which "exciting launch events" could be expected soon. One of the cities on the list was Boston, where my sister lives, and I wondered whether this card might make a nice present for her—but since the site gave no indication at all of what businesses in Boston were participating in the program, I had no way of finding out whether the card would be of any use to her at all. The site did say I could visit Metrohiker's Facebook page for updates—but when I clicked through to it, surprise surprise, it had no information at all except a copy of the blurb that appeared on the main website.

What struck me as particularly funny was the way the website kept repeatedly mentioning the fact that the Metrohiker card is made from 100 percent recycled plastic, as if that were its primary selling point. I mean, sure, I'm all for recycling, and I'd much rather have a card made from recycled plastic than one made from new plastic—but that's assuming that I had a use for the card in the first place. What the Metrohiker site seemed to be suggesting was that I should be willing to pay $28 a year for a piece of recycled plastic without knowing what, if anything, it's actually good for.

Frankly, I don't think asking consumers to send old, expired cards to be processed into new cards and then pay $28 a year for the privilege of carrying those new cards around, without ever using them for anything, and then send them back to be recycled again, qualifies as a sustainable business model.
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