21 June 2016

50 years of credit cards in the UK

Apparently this year marks an anniversary of this vital financial tool.
There is a list of 50 fascinating facts about credit cards on Moneysupermarket.

I'd call this a list of sad state of the issue after half a century! And I'm not even referring to the sad state credit card utilisation mean to a lot of people.

Take a look at these points:
  1. There were around 60 million credit cards in circulation in Britain as of November last year.
  2. Placed end-to-end, they’d cover 3,125 miles.
  3. That’s roughly the distance from Dublin to New York.
  4. If the average card weighs 5-10g, their total weight would be somewhere between 300,000 and 600,000kg.
  5. That’s roughly equivalent to between 25 and 50 double decker buses.

Now translate that to the fact that these cards are replaced every year. True, some of us hold onto their card for three years or more, but some lose, misplace or damage theirs way more often. We also usually own more than one, sometimes more than 10! On top of gym cards, loyalty cards, and various different utility cards we get this easily will tally up to 1 million kilogrammes, or 1000 tonnes or over 2 million pounds!

Now some card providers apparently switch to more green card materials, but most are your good old PVCa (polyvinyl chloride acetate). It's a copolymer of two monomers, production none of which is exactly nice for the environment, nor is the end-effect good for it.

Apparently PVCa is better than PVC because it degrades quicker.
Except, that 90% of credit card issuers add extra additives to their cards, to make them more durable for example. Some do not even disclose what those additives are; hiding behind patents and such.
And even if they did, cards are built in a much more complicated matter than just a sheet of plastic. This affects recycling in a massive way.

And, of course, it is hard to recycle. Cards are designed to sustain a lot of stress. They have to be durable and that is an opposite of biodegradability.

What we end up with is 600,000 kilos of dangerous plastics which, if not today, then in a very short time will end up in a landfill near you.

Even though some suppliers switch to greener materials, I think it's time to do more!

It's time to go virtual.

That's why I like so much all those ideas some companies (I'm not going to advertise here) come up with.
Sadly most of them still rely on cards.
And if your concern is about security, then you have to be aware that paying with your phone isn't that much more dangerous than contactless really, yet people switch to the convenience of that payment method gladly.

Why should we not shift to the mobile then?

Nowadays almost everybody has a bank application on their mobile.

There is no reason not to use it as a payment tool.

I have written a letter to all major UK based payment card issuers and AmEx to ask about their view on it, alternatives they are proposing and issues they face.
Watch this space for their replies.