Going green to make green – how plastic waste can power financial services

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[ This article was originally published here ]

2021 is a big year in our fight against climate change. In a summer, which has seen record-breaking temperatures across the world, the evidence of humanity’s impact on the environment is becoming more and more obvious.  

With conditions reaching new levels of severity, the world’s leaders and top scientists will be convening at the 26th Conference of the Parties (31st October to 12th November), also known as COP26, to negotiate how the world will respond to the mounting challenge of climate change. Aside from committing to reaching net-zero by 2050, attendees will also pledge to invest $100bn per year to finance the world’s crackdown on climate change. 

If this goal is to be achieved, the involvement of financial services providers, such as banks, will be essential. However, there are other ways financial institutions can help combat climate change.  

One environmental issue that financial institutions can play a key part in addressing is the world’s crippling consumption of plastic. By reusing discarded plastic products, such as water bottles and plastic bags, banks can drive sustainable transformation by offering greener banking solutions. 

But, before we look at the solutions, it’s critical we understand the problems which wasted plastic poses to our planet. 

More plastic, more problems 

The world’s consumption of plastic is well documented, and the numbers are truly staggering. Here are few statistics that highlight our plastic problem: 

  • Around the world, one million plastic drinking bottles are purchased every minute 
  • Over the course of just one year, the world uses 5 trillion single-use plastic bags 
  • Today, we produce about 300 million tonnes of plastic waste every year, which is nearly equivalent to the weight of the world’s human population 

Sadly, with this level of consumption comes the environmental problems emanating from the production and disposal of plastic. 

The production process of plastic has traditionally been powered by fossil fuels, a core contributor to the world’s rising temperatures. If our current plastic production grows as currently planned, the emissions produced could reach 1.34 gigatons per year. This is equivalent to the emissions released by more than 295 new 500-megawatt coal-fired power plants by 2030. 

The disposal of plastic is equally problematic, with our heavy consumption leading to the irresponsible discarding of excess plastic waste. In fact, our oceans could contain more plastic than fish by 2050. Aside from outnumbering the world’s population of aquatic creatures, microplastics are often consumed by sea animals. Once consumed, these microplastics can increase the chance of disease and impact reproduction in these animals.  

Another core goal of COP26 is ‘adapt to protect communities and natural habitats’. For this to be possible, the world at large must do better to limit its consumption and wasting of plastic products. 

Upcycled banking – how discarded plastic can power financial services 

With literally tonnes of discarded plastic to use, what can financial institutions do to redirect waste for a more productive purpose? One answer is in the form of eco-friendly bank cards.  

Bank cards are the ubiquitous financial services tool found in the wallets of millions worldwide. But, while traditional PVC bank cards are certainly put to good use compared to other plastic goods, their production and disposal does pose environmental challenges. In fact, the amount of plastic used to produce bank cards every year is equivalent to the weight of 150 Boeing 747s. What’s more, the production of six billion bank cards produces a carbon footprint equal to 500,000 passengers flying from New York to Sydney. 

However, advances in technology have seen the development of new, sustainably sourced bank cards made from otherwise discarded materials. For example, many card manufacturers have turned to using ocean plastic as the base material for bank cards. By upcycling plastic floating in our oceans, banks have the potential to recycle one plastic bottle for every card issued. 

In 2019, we teamed up with American Express, Parley for the Oceans and Siegel + Gale to introduce the American Express Green Card made from 70% reclaimed plastic. Through our contribution to this project, Thales was named winner of the 2020 Élan Award of Excellence in the Unique Innovation category by the International Card Manufacturers Association (ICMA).

Climate change is an issue that all industries must face up to in the coming years. But it’s important that organisations, such as banks, are diverse in the way in which they tackle this issue. While funding sustainability initiatives is a strong start, there are many other areas which can be addressed through the adjustment of business models.  

Read more about our recent partnership with Parley for the Oceans here.

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