What might seem like a harmless, convenient card that sits in your wallet can be very harmful to the environment.
Banks issue over six billion plastic credit cards annually, and these create a significant carbon footprint due to the plastic they’re made of.When the cards expire, they add to the plastic waste issue by ending up in landfills and water bodies.
However, it’s not all doom and gloom. Today more and more eco-friendly cards are available on the market. – let’s take a look at some of the best.
What is my credit card made of?
Most credit cards are plastic, but the type of plastic varies.
So, you might be wondering – how can I tell what kind of plastic my card is made from?
And what’s the big deal about types of plastic, anyway?
Plastic credit cards
The most common credit card plastic usually consists of polyvinyl chloride acetate – or PVC/PVCA, as it is commonly known. This material is about 40% petroleum and 60% chlorine, andl has the benefit of being dense, sturdy, and water-resistant.
As such, PVC makes cards that are durable enough to withstand wear and tear for the years that they remain active and longer. The issue is when the card reaches its expiry date, it’s, well, still durable. And the question then, is where does that card go once it’s no longer useful.
What is so bad about plastic?
PVC is not biodegradable.
While the card might reach its expiry date, the material does not. Plastic takes an average of 400 years to break down, and, even then, it remains hazardous to the environment.
It takes over 30,000 tons of PVC to make these credit cards annually. To put this into perspective, this is equivalent to the weight of 150 Boeing 747s airplanes. Even though some cards get recycled, the majority end up in the environment as plastic waste.
Additives and pigments complicate the recycling process, but the main reason behind the dismal effort in repurposing the material is little to no financial incentive. As such, the plastic is either incinerated, dumped in landfills, or finds its way into the oceans.
Some argue that incineration is the best way to tackle the problem because the process produces heat that can generate electricity. However, burning plastic releases harmful gases, such as dioxins and chlorine compounds, into the atmosphere, which can have severe health effects.
With landfills, the toxic materials may leak slowly into the soil, and some of them may end up flowing through rivers into the sea. Either way, the plastic often ends up in the food chain.
Plastic consumption in humans
Plastic pollutes the air we breathe, the food we eat, and the water we drink.
As the large pieces of plastic degrade over time, they form microplastics, which are less than 5mm wide. A recent study done by the University of Newcastle suggests that an average person ingests five grams of microplastics weekly – the equivalent of the weight of a credit card.
Most of this gets into the body through drinking water (tap & bottled), shellfish, beer, and salt. These contain as many as 1769, 182, 10, and 11 particles, respectively, where a particle is 0 – 1 mm.
In the US, 94% of tap water samples contained plastic fibers – the highest percentage of any country tested.
Currently, the world produces over 330 million metric tons of plastic, which will triple by 2050. Plastic consumption in humans, as a result, will increase unless we make a change.
This can easily seem overwhelming. One simple swap you can make is to switch to using an eco-friendly credit card.
What are the alternatives to a plastic credit card?
One way to reduce PVC credit card pollution is by using these alternatives:
Ocean plastic cards
As stated earlier, there is a lot of plastic waste in the ocean.
Ocean plastic cards contain partial or 100% recycled plastic from the sea, which helps to clean up the ocean. One card might have the equivalent material of a reclaimed plastic bottle, which means six billion credit cards could eliminate up to six billion bottles from the water.
Post-consumer recycling usually has little to no financial incentive, but this process helps to finance the industry. However, even though the cards help clean the coastal waters, once the cards expire, there is a high probability they will end up in landfills or back in the ocean again.
Biodegradable plastic cards
Biodegradable plastic cards are the best alternatives currently because they are easily recyclable, chlorine-free, and non-toxic when burned. The material comes from polylactic acid (PLA), a bio-based plastic obtained from corn, plant leaves, and other renewable sources.
Wooden cards from sustainably sourced trees or recycled wood make great PVC plastic alternatives as they are also biodegradable, non-toxic, and recyclable. They are relatively new, and apart from being green, they often feature beautiful wood grain patterns.
Metal cards might have a large carbon footprint due to their extraction and refining processes, but they are more durable and easier to recycle when compared to PVC. Therefore, they are more eco-friendly in the long run.
The future of green banking
There is no doubt that banking is getting more eco-friendly by the day. So, what next?
Will we see more plastic alternatives in the future?
With many banks signing up to provide non-plastic card alternatives, we may continue to see innovation of more eco-friendly credit cards made of safer materials.
Not only is this good for the environment, but it also creates a sense of trust. Customers can have a better sense that their financial institution is committed to protecting the planet and making it a better place.
What is green banking?
Green banking takes the issuance of eco-friendly credit cards to the next level by helping to reduce your carbon footprint while promoting environmentally friendly activities through banking.
Becoming more popular following the signing of the Paris Climate Agreement, green banking aims to shift the focus towards tackling climate change – and away from increasing profits.
Some cool introductions include reforestation policies, where a financial institution plants a tree for every purchase or transaction made using their card, and cash rewards, which reward you if you hit carbon zero by eliminating your carbon footprint each month.
In this financing trend, banks are also shifting their investment strategies towards sustainable technologies and developing eco-friendly loan policies, while divesting from the oil & gas industry. Their eco-friendly loan policies may include lending money to invest in solar or the purchase of electric cars.
This is all great news for your wallet, and more importantly, for the planet!
What can I do to help?
Finding a socially responsible green bank can be a great option if you’re looking to take the next step in your journey towards responsible consumerism.
One of the most notable financial firms offering this kind of service is Aspiration.
The firm has two spending and saving options, Aspiration and Aspiration Plus, which both offer cashback rewards for purchases from ethical companies. On top of that, their new credit card – the Aspiration Zero – doubles cashback rewards each month you reach carbon zero.
As a genuine green neobank, the firm does not use deposits to fund fossil fuel companies or political campaigns.
According to a Banktrack report, the 60 largest banks in the world spent $3.8 trillion in the fossil fuel industry from 2016 to 2020. In the US, this figure is closer to $240 billion annually – and that’s from the four biggest banks only.
Thankfully, Aspiration’s green policies gear towards planet-saving activities, and every $1,000 deposit has the potential to eliminate the emissions produced by driving an average car for up to 6,000 miles.
Eco-friendly cards may be the future of cashless payments to help reduce excessive plastic pollution. Embracing green banking can be a great way to fight climate change and protect the environment.