Over six billion plastic payment cards are produced and shipped worldwide every year. These cards are quickly replacing cash payments because they are a more convenient and secure way of paying. These cards typically comprise several layers of PVC plastic, one of the most common forms of plastic. Each card will contain approximately 5 grams of plastic, weighing 15 000 tonnes. These cards are replaced on average every 3-4 years, and most are discarded into landfill.
Since 2018, Mastercard has been working to develop more sustainable card options for their cards and other card issuers. Some of these options include:
- Recycled PVC plastic uses post-industrial waste to make the card. PVC recycling reduces the need for more oil extraction, which supports the creation of new PVC.
- Polylactic Acid is a bio-sourced plastic produced from either corn or sugar starch. The cards can be industrially composted if they are collected and processed in the correct conditions.
- Polyethylene Terraphlate contains no chlorine or styrene and is more widely recycled. PETG can be a step towards introducing full circularity.
- Ocean-sourced cards are made from post-consumer plastic waste found in the ocean or from coastal areas.
Additionally, Mastercard has introduced its Sustainable Card Badge, part of its certification program to encourage the use of more sustainable materials in card manufacturing. The Badge is a card mark made available to qualified card manufacturers and issuers who reduce first-use PVC in plastic payment cards. Issuers will have access to an approved list of vendors and alternative sustainable materials found in the Mastercard Sustainable Materials Directory. This is the world’s first directory of sustainable card materials and information on where to source them. More than 60 financial institutions in more than a dozen countries worldwide have issued Mastercard cards made from approved recycled, recyclable and bio-sourced materials.
Mastercard is also exploring the end-of-life for payment card options, as most materials used in these cards cannot be composted or recycled efficiently. The contaminants, such as the chips and magnetic tape, still need to be addressed as they cannot be composted, separated, or removed in the recycling processes. The emergence of new chemical recycling techniques alongside the traditional mechanical processes makes this an emerging option for cards which will likely see further improvement over the coming years. Mastercard is invested in research regarding the chemical recycling of plastics to find ways they can contribute to a more circular economy.
Mastercard’s efforts will significantly reduce the need for plastic, especially as these cards continue to be manufactured each year. Although these cards are small, the impact can be huge, and it is important to reduce plastic use wherever we can.