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The Climate Crisis Behind Plastic Cards

~9min reading time
Image divided in two sides: one grey side with plastic, one green side with no plastic. A tree in the middle, half flourishing, half dry.

Imagine a mountain of plastic waste the height of a two-story building. That's roughly the equivalent of what 200,000 plastic credit or gift cards produce, found Reuters. Sadly, it’s just a small fraction of the approximately 26 billion cards currently in use worldwide. According to Clean Ireland, physical cards create 5.7 million tonnes of plastic waste every year and they can take up to 500 years to decompose.

Businesses are amongst the top users of plastic waste in the world. Physical gift and credit cards are still the go-to solution for employee benefits, business expenses, and employee rewards. The short lifespan of plastic credit and gift cards masks a dark secret: Every transaction leaves behind a burden far heavier than the card itself; there’s a hidden cost in plastic waste and carbon emissions that takes a serious toll on our environment.

As a business owner, it's vital to consider the environmental and health consequences of every plastic card your company issues – because even seemingly small contributions quickly add up to a significant problem.

People want to buy from companies that prioritise environmental sustainability

Recent research highlights the public concern in Ireland about the future of our planet. A strong majority (79%) of Irish people are worried about the environmental consequences of climate change. They're not just worried – they want action.

The study also found that more than half (56%) of Irish consumers feel that businesses must take the lead on climate action, and there's a strong preference (49%) for buying from companies that prioritise environmental sustainability.

It's clear that Irish people care deeply about sustainability and your company's environmental choices have a direct impact on their perceptions.

The Toxic Truth About Plastic Credit and Gift Cards

The production of plastic credit and gift cards, particularly those made of PVC, relies on a cocktail of toxic chemicals. These chemicals pose risks throughout the card's lifecycle, from production to disposal, ultimately winding up in our environment and even our bodies. Plastic gift cards are typically single-use, creating more unnecessary waste.

Consider vinyl chloride, a toxic chemical classified as a human carcinogen in 1974. It's a key component in plastic card production, and it's also found in PVC pipes, windows, flooring, packaging, furniture, car parts, children's toys, shower curtains, and many other consumer goods.

Shockingly, vinyl chloride isn't merely suspected of causing cancer — the International Agency for Research on Cancer considers it a Group 1 carcinogen. Studies show it's known to cause liver cancer and is associated with lymphoma, leukaemia, and cancers of the brain and lungs. Plus, pregnant women have an increased risk of miscarriage and birth defects when exposed to high levels of vinyl chloride in the air.

Needless to say, the health risks associated with these chemicals should be of grave concern to businesses committed to employee well-being.

The Plastic Pollution Problem

The majority of the 26 billion plastic cards in circulation today are made from PVC, which is a material that resists decomposition and presents significant recycling challenges due to its embedded metals and other components. As a result, the vast majority of cards wind up in landfills already overflowing with plastic waste or in incinerators.

Here’s what happens:

Landfill Dangers

Once in a landfill, plastic cards can take centuries to break down, all the while slowly releasing harmful chemicals that contaminate soil and groundwater, threatening drinking water supplies.

Incineration Hazards

When incinerated, PVC releases a toxic cocktail of pollutants, including dioxins – potent carcinogens that pollute the air and can bioaccumulate in the food chain, posing long-term health risks for both people and animals.

The Climate Impact of Plastic Card Production

The manufacturing process for plastic cards is also a major source of planet-warming greenhouse gases. And, the problem is urgent, says the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the United Nations body for assessing the science related to climate change.

IPCC research finds that in order to avoid the worst effects of climate change, global greenhouse gas emissions must peak before 2025 and see dramatic reductions (40-70%) by 2050.

The urgent need for businesses to lead the change is undeniable. Hopefully, by understanding the environmental consequences of plastic card usage, business owners can take decisive action to shift toward more sustainable alternatives.

Aligning Business Goals with Global Sustainability

The urgent need for businesses to prioritise environmental action is echoed by global initiatives like the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). Their research calls for a drastic 80% reduction in plastic waste by 2040, achievable through existing solutions and impactful policy changes.

To make this vision a reality, here are some changes you can start implementing in your workplace today.

Replace Your Plastic Business Expense Cards

Business expenses represent a crucial area for reducing waste and streamlining processes, which are often outdated and end up hurting a business rather than helping it. Instead, consider ditching toxic plastic cards and switching to a waste-free solution: CleverCards prepaid digital Mastercards.

These virtual cards not only streamline the handling of employee expenses, per diem allowances, and eliminate Revenue Reporting Requirements for expenses but also significantly cut down on the paper waste traditionally associated with expense reimbursements. By transitioning to digital receipts and statements, businesses can drastically reduce paper usage, contributing to a more sustainable planet while improving operational efficiency.

CleverCards also offer greater control over company spending with customisable features, the ability to top up spending limits on the go, and real-time spend visibility.

A Plastic-Free Card for Employee Rewards and Gifts

The IRF recently found that employees (specifically those working remotely or hybrid remotely) ranked a digital prepaid gift card as the number one reward or incentive they’d like to receive from their manager, ranking it above an additional day off, a weekend away for two, and even the option to receive a luxury gift.

So, in short, if you're still relying on traditional plastic gift cards for your employee rewards program or Christmas gift, it's time to upgrade. CleverCards prepaid digital Mastercards don’t just eliminate plastic waste; they offer the perfect mix of flexibility and autonomy that modern employees crave. Issued instantly to employees via email, they can be spent at over 65 million shops worldwide and are compatible with Apple Pay and Google Pay.

Plus, by ditching plastic, you're not only improving employee satisfaction but also reducing your environmental impact. Every plastic card and accompanying letter generates unnecessary paper waste and contributes to carbon emissions through postage. A standard letter-size envelope can generate about 20-25 grams of emissions – multiply that by your workforce, and the environmental cost becomes significant.

Simple Changes, Big Impact

Green business practices don't have to mean massive changes. A simple switch – like swapping plastic gift and credit cards for CleverCards digital prepaid Mastercards – can significantly reduce your carbon footprint and plastic waste.

This switch also brings convenience to your processes, while benefiting both your employees and business, and demonstrating your commitment to environmental responsibility.

Irish businesses are at the forefront of this change, having eliminated nearly six tonnes of CO2 emissions through the adoption of CleverCards digital Mastercards so far. Are you ready to join the movement toward a greener workplace?

Contact our team below and find out more about how we can optimise your business operations, improve employee satisfaction and retention, and contribute to a more sustainable future.