Mastercard aims to cut PVC from payment cards

Plastic card production uses lots of carbon dioxide, and PVC causes cancer

John Egan
Personal Finance Writer
Writes trendy stories about credit cards.

Mastercard aims to cut PVC from payment cards

Plastic payment cards, including credit and debit cards, are pervasive. 

Nearly 6.5 billion of them were produced in 2017, according to The Nilson Report, and nearly 20.5 billion are in circulation around the world.

But what’s more astounding than the sheer number of plastic cards is their environmental impact. With the average card weighing 5.07 grams, the carbon footprint of a card is about 21 grams, when you include the water and energy used to make it.

If you compute the overall carbon footprint of the nearly 6.5 billion cards manufactured in 2017, you come up with more than 136,500 metric tons of carbon dioxide (C02), the main culprit behind climate change. By comparison, the typical American car emits about 4.6 metric tons of C02 every year, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

A new partnership formed by payment processor Mastercard and card manufacturers Gemalto, Giesecke+Devrient and IDEMIA aims to cut down on the use of PVC (polyvinyl chloride) plastic – one of the world’s most common plastics – in the production of payment cards and, ultimately, to reduce their carbon footprint.

“Consumers are increasingly moving from cash to card as they look for greater security and sustainability,” Ajay Bhalla, president of cyber and intelligence solutions at Mastercard, said in an Oct. 19 news release. “This partnership will help us and our industry reduce first-use plastic in cards.”

See related: Plastic is America's favorite way to pay 

Plastic cards are notoriously difficult to recycle 

While the Greener Payments Partnership notes that less than 0.015 percent of the plastic manufactured each year goes toward payment cards, Mastercard and its three collaborators still want to do their part to practice environmental responsibility. 

Toward that end, the partnership is working on incorporating recyclable, bio-sourced and biodegradable materials into the card manufacturing process. Payment cards, typically made of environmentally hazardous materials, are notoriously difficult to recycle, in part because PVC is a known carcinogen.

In 2016, Mastercard teamed up with Finland’s Bank of Åland, nonprofit environmental group WWF Finland, professional services firm KPMG and Gemalto to create a credit and debit card made of renewable and biodegradable materials. The Baltic Sea Card replaced the bank’s plastic cards.

Users of the Baltic Sea Card can track the environmental impact of purchases made with the card, according to AdAge, and can counteract that impact by changing their behavior or donating money to environmental causes.

See related: Mastercard, Discover, AmEx and Visa ditching signatures 

Turning the tide of PVC use 

The newly unveiled partnership comes as the presence of PVC plastic keeps growing. According to the European Council of Vinyl Manufacturers, PVC use around the world is increasing by an average of 3 percent a year. Aside from payment cards, PVC can be found in such products as children’s toys, medical devices and water pipes.

“It’s no secret that we all need to change the way we live and consume to reduce the impact we’re having on our planet. For IDEMIA, it’s essential as an industrial leader to effect change for the better and play our part to reduce, for instance, our reliance on plastic,” Pierre Barrial, executive vice president for financial institutions activities at IDEMIA, said in the Oct. 19 news release.

See related: Video: EMV chip card torture test 

AmEx readies card made of reclaimed ocean plastic 

Mastercard isn’t the only major player in the payment industry that’s getting in on eco-action.

In June 2018, American Express announced it would roll out a credit card made mostly of plastic debris reclaimed from ocean waters. The card is expected to be available to customers in 2019.

“Our oceans play a vital role in our lives, the health of our planet and the health of travel and tourism, which American Express has long supported. It’s important that we raise awareness and do our part to keep our oceans blue,” Doug Buckminster, group president of global consumer services at AmEx, said in the June 2018 announcement.


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Updated: 11-15-2018