NATIONAL REPORT—If you have a top 10 list of “to do” items to green your property, there is a good chance key cards are not on that list. Traditional plastic (PVC) cards carry a high environmental price tag. PVC, of course, is an oil-based product and when incinerated releases harmful dioxins. In the environment, dioxins tend to accumulate in the food chain. The higher in the animal food chain one goes, the higher the concentration of dioxins. Left to rot in a landfill, PVC cards can take centuries to biodegrade. Fortunately, a number of suppliers have emerged in the last few years to meet the need for alternatives to the plastic cards we are all used to using.
The new key cards are made from materials ranging from wood from PEFC (Program for the Endorsement of Forest Certification methods) certified forests to plant-based material such as corn. Some cards are still PVC based but include recycled content. Other PVC-based cards include special enzymes to encourage degradation in a landfill. Some suppliers sell direct to hotel companies or individual properties while others sell through distributors or even lock system vendors. In most cases, there is little or no difference in cost when comparing “green” key cards to their PVC cousins.
Through interviews and online research, Green Lodging News gathered information about many of the “greener” key card options currently available. Company by company, the following is a summary of what some of the leading suppliers are selling.
Three Green Earth Varieties
Both usfi | GreenWorks and Pineapple Hospitality are currently offering three varieties of Green Earth Key Cards. Green Earth Bio Cards are PVC-based but biodegrade completely in from 18 months to five years thanks to special enzymes included in the plastic. Green Earth Agri Cards are made from materials from plants such as corn. The company’s Green Earth reNew Key Cards are made from recycled PVC.
“The Bio Cards have been the most popular,” says Faisal Ahmad, CEO of usfi | GreenWorks. “Everybody’s view on ‘green’ is different. There are no set standards. We consider plant-based products to be the most green. They are all good options, however.”
Ray Burger, president of Pineapple Hospitality, says the Green Earth Key Cards can be customized to include a hotel or hotel company’s own design. He added that they are just as durable and work just as well as the traditional plastic cards.
Wood-based Key Cards
For the Democratic National Convention last year, Sustainable Cards, LLC, along with its card manufacturer CPI Card Group, donated more than 70,000 of its biodegradable key cards for use at Denver area hotels. Sustainable Cards offers two types of key cards: an all-wood card and a hybrid wood card. Wood used in the company’s cards is PEFC certified. The hybrid card includes a thin biodegradable laminate sealer. Peo Akesson, founder and chairman of Sustainable Cards, says the “key” with the cards is to help raise awareness of environment-related concerns among guests.
Guest Access International is offering key cards made from recycled PVC. “Any waste produced during production is used again, along with rejected cards or keys returned to us,” says Janet Arenivas, general manager for the company.
Cadmus, The Whitehall Group, has been selling its paperboard-based Green-Key cards for more than two years now. The company has sold more than a million of the recyclable, biodegradable cards so far, according to Dusty McGuire, marketing coordinator for the company.
“We have helped keep five tons of plastic out of landfills,” says McGuire, who added that one of his company’s customers partnered with a local Denny’s restaurant to advertise on its cards.
Green Marketing Opportunity
Green Path is also selling Green-Key cards as well as key card “key packs,” the key card folders commonly used in hotels. According to Dave Schoenblum, president of Green Path, his company can customize the key packs to include the property’s environmental message or list of green initiatives. Green Path also offers a key card recycling bin for the Green-Keys.
Just like usfi | GreenWorks and Pineapple Hospitality, Arthur Blank & Company, Inc. is offering a variety of alternatives to the traditional card. Their offerings include a card made from 100 percent pre-consumer recycled PVC, one from 50 percent recycled and 50 percent traditional PVC, a compostable and renewable card, and one made from corn.
“We like to offer the full spectrum and let the customer decide which option is best for them,” says Rick Barbieri, director of marketing for Arthur Blank & Company. “We have seen huge numbers of our customers switching over to these options. They are all trying to pitch in to do something better for the environment.”
Those interviewed for this article agreed that most hotel guests never return their cards for reuse or recycling. That is why it is so important to make sure that key cards’ end-of-life impact is considered. According to Sustainable Cards, a typical 200-room hotel will go through roughly 12,000 plastic keys per year as desk clerks code two to four keys per room. That means many non-biodegradable key cards wind up in landfills each year. Multiplying this factor across the landscape of American hotels, more than 1,300 tons of plastic become waste each year in the United States alone.
Be sure to also check out Loc International.
Glenn Hasek can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.