Sustainable plastic cards: just a trend or viable solution to environmental issues?

Did you know that the average weight of a plastic card is 5 grams and by the beginning of 2020, 5.6 billion payment cards were issued worldwide - the total weight of which was 28 million kilograms. If you take into account that the validity period of the average payment card is 3-4 years, the annual ‘waste contribution’ of bank cards is approximately 8 million kilograms!

With the omnipresence of environmental activists, we are all aware of the pressing issue of plastic waste, and payment players both big and small are trying to do their part in tackling the ever-present issues of the world’s plastic pollution crisis.

Triodos was one of the first banks in the UK to put an eco-friendly card into use. Its card is made of renewable sources, such as plant leaves and corn, which are completely biodegradable. Once expired, the card can be thrown away with the usual waste and it will biodegrade.

It isn’t just banks that are getting on board – major international payments networks Mastercard, Visa and American Express are also leading the charge.

Mastercard has recently launched a program to introduce sustainable cards, encouraging issuers to use more environmentally friendly materials, such as biodegradable plastic, recycled plastic or reclaimed ocean plastic. Two years ago, Mastercard established the Green Payments Partnership (GPP) which aimed to reduce the use of PVC plastic in card manufacturing, and subsequently more than 60 financial institutions, including major ones such as DBS, Santander and Crédit Agricole, have adopted GPP-recommended materials.

Visa also announced earlier in the year that it has  teamed up with the CPI Card Group to develop the Earthwise High Content Card, of which up to 98% is composed of recycled plastic waste, and that the cards will be issued in financial institutions around the world.

Meanwhile, first announced in 2018, American Express came up with the idea of producing cards from recycled plastic waste collected in, and nearby, the ocean. In 2019, American Express partnered with Parley for the Oceans, a global environmental advocacy non-profit who work with big brands to recycle ocean plastics. Alongside this, American Express has other plans to cut back on their plastic use. They revealed their card recycling program and plan to eliminate single use plastics company-wide.

According to World Bank research, globally we produce around 3.5 million tonnes of plastic and other solid waste a day. This is 10 times the amount than 100 years ago. Cans, bottles, and paper always come to mind as the most important materials to recycle, but it is great to see the payments industry jumping on board when it comes to protecting the planet and making more sustainable choices.  Utilising recycled materials to produce cards that have a short lifecycle is the first step in our industry making a positive difference to our environment.