Green Credit Cards: Can They Deliver?

Being environmentally friendly involves a series of choices that add up over time: the reusable water bottle, the transit ride, the trip to the consignment store rather than the department store. But the way we pay for everything we buy also has an impact. In recent years, green credit cards have emerged as a way to make a more informed choice.

These cards can donate to green causes, help you offset your carbon footprint, or even be made from recycled, biodegradable or salvaged materials. But a “good” credit card for the environment is a tricky premise. On the one hand, many large banks, some of which issue these cards, are investing in fossil fuels.

More, credit cards make it easier to buy more things, and the very act of consumption contributes to climate change in multiple ways. After all, that online shopping doesn’t magically appear on your doorstep. The items you buy are made, packaged, shipped, delivered in trucks … you get the idea.

So, do green credit cards make a difference? What other actions can you take to make a difference in your own spending habits?

What makes a credit card “green”?

Green credit cards aim to protect the environment in several ways:

Use more durable materials to make the cards

There is a noticeable trend away from “first-use” plastic in credit cards and plastic that was previously used for other purposes, such as recycled PVC (polyvinyl chloride, the difficult material to recycle from. which maps are traditionally made) and plastics recovered from the oceans.

Still, any use of plastic, even if it’s recycled or salvaged, can be problematic, according to Katie O’Hara, conservation manager at Loggerhead Marinelife Center in Juno Beach, Florida.

“Anything made from recycled or salvaged ocean plastics isn’t really recyclable or sustainable,” she said in an email. “When plastics are recycled, they degrade, releasing nanoparticles and microparticles into the water used to recycle them. Plastic cannot be reused more than once or twice, and when recycled it is always harmful to the environment. “

Even if plastic finds a second life as a credit card, it will eventually find its way back to the landfill. O’Hara recommends opting for metal credit cards, which are more durable and easier to recycle.

Donate to specific causes

There are many environmental charities out there doing important work all over the world and they need help. And by “help” what they really need is money.

“Environmental nonprofits rely heavily on donations, and the donations they receive through environmentally friendly credit cards can be a lifeline for them,” said Marc Lewis, editor-in-chief of EcoWatch, an environmental news and product review site, in an email. .

So if you want to use a credit card that helps raise funds for a cause you care about, go for it. But don’t fall into the trap of thinking that using the map more often equates to a healthier planet. “It’s hard to measure whether these donations are really offsetting the massive carbon footprint of credit card purchases of televisions, smartphones, new furniture and other resource-intensive consumer goods,” Lewis said.

An alternative is to simply donate directly to charities. Money is always right for you, but you can even donate points and miles rewards credit cards, as well as airline and hotel loyalty programs.

Offer carbon offsets

With carbon offsets, you are essentially helping to finance an environmentally friendly project somewhere in the world, canceling the carbon footprint of your own action. In recent years, a few carbon offset credit cards have come to the market. They partner with organizations that offset the carbon footprint of your purchases through reforestation efforts and other means. Some even track the carbon footprint of your purchases, helping you make more informed purchasing decisions.

Anything that helps you think about the impact of your purchases is a good thing. Carbon offsets themselves can also help, although the data on the effectiveness of different offsets programs is obscure. If you choose a credit card that offers carbon offsets, take a look at the organizations they support to see what impact you can have. Also, it’s tempting to buy more when each squeeze of the card does something good for the environment, but, again, buying more stuff isn’t usually good for the environment.

What card issuers can do: Ditch the physical card altogether

According to Doug Heske, CEO of Newday Impact Investing, a platform that allows users to invest in ESG portfolios. (ESG stands for environmental, social, and governance.) But we already have the technology that will reduce the demand for physical cards.

Perhaps in part because of the Covid-19 pandemic, the use of contactless and mobile payment has accelerated around the world. A study on Visa 2021 found that 85% of consumers expect digital options when making in-person purchases, including contactless credit cards, mobile payment apps and mobile wallets. And if contactless payment options are what customers want, card issuers and merchants will end up delivering by allowing consumers to agree to receive physical cards instead of automatically mailing them.

“We are in this period of transition between what was and what will be,” says Heske. “From my experience and the conversation I’ve had with the major vendors, everyone is moving in this direction. It’s going to be consumer-driven. “

What consumers can do: make little choices that add up

Just because something is plastic doesn’t mean you can just throw it in the recycling bin and pat yourself on the back. What is considered “recyclable” may depend on the rules of the recycling program in your area.

Credit cards are difficult to recycle in part because of their chips and magnetic strips, according to Debbie Prenatt, market manager, sustainability, at Holland Co., a plastics distribution company. Companies like TerraCycle offer a way to send your old cards for recycling. TerraCycle’s zero waste pouch costs $ 48, but you can save money by sharing the cost and the pouch with friends who also want to safely dispose of their cards.

And if you haven’t tried this mystery yet wallet app on your phone, add a credit card or two and try it the next time you’re shopping at a merchant that accepts this type of payment.

Of course, a big part of reducing plastic waste is just using less. Prenatt adds another “R” for “reduce, reuse, recycle” – refuse.

“If you buy take out, do you need plastic utensils? Or can you wait until you’re home and use a metal fork? This is how you refuse, ”she said. “Unfortunately, if you want to do better, you have to do the job as an individual.”

About Joan Ferguson

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