Ditch plastic bank cards for good

By Daniel Lanyon on Saturday 30 April 2022

OpinionAlternative LendingDigital BankingSavings and Investment

Plastic is unnecessary and wasteful for banks' cards. Greener solutions are available. The time to cut the habit is now.

Ditch plastic bank cards for good
Image source: Pexels

Go look in your wallet. It's full of bits of plastic you barely use. Am I right? 

Inevitably, much of that plastic ends up in the ground or sea and ultimately in the human food chain. Sorry to break it to you but you probably eat one credit card's worth of plastic each week.

With the number of bank and banking-like options out there increasing, we have more cards than ever and yet increasingly use digital payment methods. 

It's time banks, neobanks and other fintechs ditch this terribly wasteful and overtly-bad-for-the-environment habit.

While the numbers are hard to calculate accurately, data from 2018 points to there being c.164 million plastic debit, credit and pre-paid cards in the UK alone. 

The amount of plastic used to produce banking cards every year is equivalent to the weight of 80 Boeing 747s, according to Thales, with about six billion individual cards created.

Despite the digital boom in payments, cards are still needed. And will be for years to come. It’s unlikely cards themselves will become irrelevant, or at least not for a long time. 

People like cards. They give merchants certainty and confidence as well as proving very effective as marketing tools for banks and fintechs. But there is a problem of increasingly bulging wallets and the plastic pollution they create as we move to become users of more banks and fintechs for differing purposes.

Although companies like Curve provided an effective solution, being an aggregator, of having one card physically and lots of virtual cards, this is not yet mainstream. 

So what’s the solution? Recycling? Reducing the number of cards? Both have their place but some fintechs are going a step further and creating cards with a much lower environmental impact.

GoHenry, as AltFi exclusively revealed earlier this month, will dump all of its plastic bank cards for good this summer, in favour of clever biodegradable ones made from compostable polylactic acid.

GoHenry made its first leap into the world of non-plastic cards with the launch of an 82 per cent bio-sourced non-petroleum-based polymer designed to break down in six months in May 2020.

Triodos was the first bank to make the step towards sustainable bank cards back in 2018. But many banks, including challenger fintechs, can be too cavalier with their use of plastic. 

Since 2019, just 214 banks have signed up to the Principles for Responsible Banking, an initiative aimed at making the banking community more aware of the societal impact of plastic use, among other sustainability issues.

Using the rollout of new cards as a short term marketing tool rather than considering the inevitable journey of cutting up cards with a pair of kitchen scissors to their eventual journey to the landfill or ocean is nothing short of out of touch with emerging consumer preferences.

Cleary, these things take a while but it's time everyone else caught up.

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