Every year billions of paper greeting cards are bought and sold and, despite the introduction of e-cards in the 1990’s, there seems to be no slowing up on consumption.

In the USA and UK the average person buys around 30 cards a year. American consumers purchase approximately 7 billion greeting cards annually and in the UK, over 2 billion.  If aligned end-to-end, nine billion cards would stretch around the world 54 times (nearly 2.2 million kms).

Given similar buying habits, the Australasian greeting card sales is guesstimated to be around 1 billion cards a year.

To meet these three countries greeting card markets alone over 312,000 trees (78,000 tonnes of paper) is needed, and that’s just the card alone – never mind the envelope. Add to that the by-products (inks, dyes and glues), postage, fuels consumed in manufacturing and distribution, and it seems like madness to continue this tradition at a time where every little bit helps both environmentally and financially.

So why do we continue this age-old tradition when new technology obviously does a much better job of things?

Greeting cards may date back to the ancient Chinese who exchanged messages of goodwill and the Egyptians who sent greetings via papyrus scrolls, but the first documented evidence is in the late Middle Ages when messages of love were exchanged at Valentines Day.

However it was 1846 when the first commercial card was made in the UK and, with the introduction of the postage stamp, by the late 1870’s greeting cards had surged in popularity and were being mass produced both in the UK and US. Aggressive marketing throughout the twentieth century has now resulted in a plethora of greeting card varieties, from specific people to any type of event or holiday imaginable.

Receiving greeting cards is part of our psyche. We don’t send paper cards without good reason; we seldom receive without them meaning something. The have higher emotional value than e-cards.

Marketers of cards in the US, the Greeting Card Association, share some interesting statistics which appear to apply, given the similar category domination on our local shelves.

  • More than 90 percent of all U.S. households buy greeting cards
  • The average household purchases 30 individual cards in a year
  • The average person receives more than 20 cards a year
  • About one-third of all cards received are birthday cards
  • Women purchase more than 80 percent of all greeting cards
  • Women are more likely than men to buy several cards at once
  • Men generally spend more on a single card than women
  • Greeting cards range widely in price
  • There are two categories of greeting cards — Seasonal and Everyday – sales are split approximately 50-50 between the two
  • The most popular Everyday cards are Birthday (60%), Anniversary (8%), Get Well (7%), Friendship (6%), and Sympathy cards (6%)
  • The most popular Seasonal cards are Christmas (60%), Valentine’s Day (25%), Mother’s Day (4%), Easter (3%), and Father’s Day (3%) cards.

And while e-mail, text messaging and phone calls are valued tools for communicating with family and friends, the majority say they prefer the old-fashioned handwritten card or letter to make them feel truly special.

If you’re inclined to stick with traditional card buying there’s some things that you can do to lessen the environmental impact.

  1. 1. Go Green – make environmentally friendly shopping choices and buy cards that are manufactured using recycled paper. There are various levels of recycled content; the higher the better:
  • GOOD: The greeting card mentions recycled content in any way.
  • BETTER: The greeting card makes a claim of “100% recycled paper.”
  • BEST: The greeting card makes a claim of “100% recycled paper” with “100% post-consumer content (PCC)” specified. Another environmental plus to look for is chlorine-free paper. Companies such as Recycled Paper Greetings Inc (the fourth largest greeting card company in the world) cards are widely available in usual card outlets. MessageMark here in New Zealand, is available at design stores or online.
  1. 2. Recycle – cards are easily re-used. The World Environment Organisation has a few creative suggestions:
  • Use them as a bookmarks
  • Make them into a gift tag by cutting the old card into a smaller shape
  • Cut off the side with the picture (if there is no writing on the reverse side) and re-use it as a post card
  • Donate to schools and kindergartens, they are a great resource for children’s art
  • If you have to dump them, use your recycle bin.
  1. 3. Only buy paper cards you actually will use. Do not buy more than you need. Draft out your message before committing it to the card, avoiding mistakes.

On the emotional flipside of the greeting business, there are gazillions of e-cards sent every day.  No matter how much someone loves you, the majority of people don’t want the cards they received because the “rules of specialness” have been ignored.

It’s at this stage I want to share “my rules of specialness” regarding the sending and receiving of e-cards.

  • Save it for a real occasion and be selective
  • Take as much time and thought into selecting just the right e-card as you would at the book store for a paper card
  • If you can’t do the above points, then don’t send an e-card
  • When you have received an e-card of value, that makes you feel good, acknowledge the sender and thank them.

The same principles apply to other quirky emails. Don’t forward for the sake of it. I don’t like my mailbox jammed and my bandwidth consumed with this kind of mail.

Compulsive senders also remember if you overuse this service you’ll also ruin the opportunity to use e-cards to your financial advantage WITHOUT looking cheap. Use e-cards sparingly. It will mean so much more.