No one can deny the importance of plastic cards. They have made our lives hassle-free and saved a lot of our time. From payment card transactions to accessing hotel rooms we use them in our daily routine. These cards are lightweight, water-resistant, tear-resistant, and inexpensive to produce.
But have you seen the other side of the coin? Do you know that these cards are one of the biggest contributors to environmental pollution?
Being an environmentalist and promoter of Green hospitality management services, let me tell you about the demerits and negative environmental impact of PVC cards. From the production process to dumping into the landfills, it causes a huge amount of carbon footprint and environmental pollutions. To dive deep into the topic we have to go through the life cycle of these cards.
Birth: How are Plastic cards produced?
The journey of Payment cards starts with the production process of PVC which is the key component of Plastic cards. PVC stands for polyvinyl chloride, a lightweight, tear-resistant, water-resistant, and heat & electricity insulating material. The raw material used for the production of PVC is salt and oil. Water and electricity are also consumed during this process. One component of PVC i.e. Chlorine comes from salt. When electricity runs through salt, chlorine gas is produced. The other component ethylene comes from oil/gas. Then the ethylene and chlorine are combined through a chemical process that results in the PVC material.
From this PVC, the process of making plastic cards is relatively simple and it consists of the following steps:
- The thin sheets (3 to 5 sheets) of PVC are combined to achieve the required density of the card.
- A proper amount of heat and adhesive is applied between these sheets to produce a compact sheet of PVC.
- Cutting the forged sheet into the required size of the card.
- The required information is printed or embossed onto the plastic card.
- A very thin sheet of lamination is applied to the card to give it a finishing and final touch.
From the manufacturing facilities, these cards are dispatched to organizations, institutions, banks, and small enterprises.
The fact which needs to be mentioned here is that the manufacturing of PVC consumes a lot of natural resources such as water, salt, and oil. The carbon footprint is 4.1 KG for the production of 1 KG PVC. Furthermore, the chemical manufacturing production process of PVC releases a huge amount of toxic chemicals i.e. dioxins, lead, vinyl chloride, cadmium, phthalates and etc. Similarly, a huge amount of greenhouse gases i.e. carbon dioxide, methane, and ethylene are emitted during the production of PVC. All of these greenhouse gases and toxic substances are severely damaging the health of this planet as well as its inhabitants.
Experience: What are the applications (use cases) of plastic cards?
The use cases for plastic cards are numerous. From payment cards to hotel key cards, all are made of plastic. The following are some of the prominent uses of PVC cards.
- Payment cards.
- Hotel key cards.
- User identification cards (id cards)
- Library cards.
- Gift certificate.
- Business cards.
- Rewards plan card.
- Membership cards.
- Amusement parks access cards.
- Metro cards.
Payment cards i.e. credit cards and debit cards:
Payment cards are plastic cards that we use for cashless transactions. They have played a major role in transforming our society from fiat currency to a cashless society. According to Statista, there were 22.1 billion payment cards (i.e. credit cards, debit cards, and prepaid cards) in circulation during the year 2019 worldwide. The number of payment cards is expected to increase by 29.31 billion in the year 2023. These stats show the importance and dependency of modern society on plastic cards.
Hotel key cards:
Hotel key cards provide access to the rooms without the use of metal keys. Most of these cards are made up of plastic. The international brands of hotels are using smart cards in the hotel management system. These PVC cards are indispensable for the hotel industry. These PVC cards mostly route in the hands of guests of the hotels and employees of the hotel.
User identifications cards:
User identification cards are everywhere. National identification cards are issued by governments to their nationals. Similarly, every school, college, university, bank, government office, and organizations issue these plastic identification cards. These cards help the security staff of these entities to easily discriminate between the members/users and others.
The other cards in the list i.e. gift cards, metro cards, library cards, business cards, membership cards and etc. are made up of plastic. There is no harm in using these cards but the real problem starts when a card is expired or lost. In the following section, I will tell you about what happens to a plastic card when it expires and how plastic waste is creating plastic pollution.
Death: What happens to plastic cards after they expire/die?
The most widely used plastic cards are payment cards and national identification cards. The unfortunate thing is that they have expiry dates after which they are useless. In most cases for payment cards, banks or financial institutions issue a fresh payment card to their users after the expiry date. The expired payment card being useless is dumped into the waste by the users. From this point onward these plastic cards will cause environmental pollution. They will go into the landfills, oceans or they will be incinerated. These will lie there for hundreds of years, contaminating the environment. The average age of plastic is up to 1000 years.
There are very nominal chances that these payment cards/plastic cards will be recycled. According to estimates, only 9% of PVC has been recycled during the past 15 years. The rest of the 91% of plastic has been dumped into land and oceans or has been burnt. This shows the gravity of the issue before us.
Plastic cards and plastic pollution:
Though PVC cards are not single-use plastic however they pose a major threat to the environment. Three are three main elements of our environment i.e. air, land, and water. Each of these elements is being destroyed by plastic cards and plastic waste. The cherry on top is the ignorance of masses over the plastic pollution. It is a major and serious threat to human beings and to our planet. Plastic cards are contaminating our environment in the following ways.
Land pollution and plastic cards’ solid waste:
Landfills are the ultimate destination of plastic solid waste. The plastic cards are non-degradable in the natural environment. They can last up to 1000 years in landfills. Plastic cards or PVC contain a high amount of chlorine content. Furthermore, toxic chemical additives such as lead, phthalates and etc. are also present in plastic. These additives and toxic substances can leach out into underground water reservoirs. These underground water reservoirs are being consumed by human beings for drinking purposes. From there, these toxic substances end up in human beings and are causing serious health issues i.e. cancer and etc. This is just one case about the environmental impact of plastic cards on the land. There are many other ways like the consumption of natural resources such as crude oil, water, and electricity by which plastic cards are impacting our environment.
Marine pollution and plastic cards:
After the expiry date of a plastic card, it can also reach the depths of oceans through streams and rivers. According to estimates, every year about 14 million tons of PVC/plastic enter the oceans. The plastic debris are also found in the depths of Marina Trench. This shows the reach of PVC. The toxic substances of PVC will drain into the water with the passage of time and will contaminate the marine environment and will damage marine life. These toxic chemicals, microplastics, and plastic debris are causing and huge damage to marine species and the marine ecosystem.
The coral reefs are also bearing the burden of plastic pollution. When a coral reef comes in contact with plastic debris, the chances of diseases increase from 4% to 89%. Similarly, the microplastics enter the bodies of fishes, crabs, and other species and ultimately end up in humans through the food chain. So, plastic cards and plastic are not only destroying the marine environment but also causing health issues in humans.
Air pollution and plastic cards:
From the production phase to the incineration, plastic cards are compromising air quality by emitting greenhouse gases and toxic gases. In the production phase, a huge amount of finite resources i.e. oil, water, and electricity is used. Similarly, CO2, carbon monoxide, methane, chlorine, ethylene, and other gases are emitted. The incineration of plastic cards is even more injurious to human health and to the entire life cycle. The burning yields chloride particles, dioxins, mercury, BCPs, furans, and other gases that are injurious to human health. A new study, by the researchers of Imperial and London’s King’s colleges, shows that the chloride particles are responsible for thick smog in Delhi. The smog and other toxic gases end up in human beings through direct inhaling and food chain. Many health issues in human beings have emerged due to the poor quality of air and air pollution.
This is just a glimpse of the looming disaster caused by plastics. Now as you know about the environmental catastrophe caused by plastics, we should steer away from plastic and plastic cards. Every enterprise should think about the eco-friendly and environmentally sustainable solution to this problem. Renewable resource consumption should be promoted. The governments should ban single-use plastics and other plastic products. The best substitute for PVC is BioPaper material that is not only eco-friendly but also environmentally sustainable. You can use these BioPaper cards in place of plastic payment cards, identification cards, hotel key cards, smartcards, and other cards. The raw material used for the making of BioPaper is calcium chloride. Furthermore, there are numerous environmental benefits of BioPaper material. Therefore, if you want your future generations to live in a better place then you have to move away from plastic.
Learn more about BioPaper Card.