Shoppers bought plastic gift cards by the millions this ­holiday season — most of which will end up in landfills, along with worn-out hotel key cards, credit cards and the like.

In 2012, the global card industry produced 33 billion cards, according to the International Card Manufacturers Association. Most of those cards contained polyvinyl chloride, a plastic that contains pollutants that are harmful to the environment and slow to decompose.

Increasingly, card manufacturers and retailers are listening to concerned consumers who are worried about the environmental impact, and they are offering more alternatives to plastic cards.

One is high-end grocery store chain Whole Foods Market Inc., which did away with plastic cards in 2011 and replaced them with paper gift cards.

“Generally, at Whole Foods, we like to think green … but we were producing tons and tons of waste from PVC cards, and that wasn’t in line with what we want to do,” said Marushka Bland, gift cards project manager for the Austin, Texas, ­company.

Last year, Whole Foods launched a gift card during the holiday season made with wood from sustainably ­managed forests in Europe.

The cards, produced by Sustainable Cards in Colorado, are made with 30 percent less energy than plastic cards and are compostable.

Whole Foods’ commitment to reducing its environmental footprint played a role in the decision to get rid of ­plastic cards, Bland said, but the change was also an effort to give their customers what they want.

“If one of our customers is environmentally conscious and doesn’t want to give a plastic card, then we love to give our customer the opportunity to make a purchase they can feel good about,” Bland said.

Shoppers were expected to buy nearly $30 billion in gift cards this holiday season. But green cards make up less than 1 percent of the card industry.

Los Angeles Times