Friday, December 9, 2022

From Recycled Plastic to Zero By Aspiration: Credit Cards Doing Good

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Credit cards like Zero by Aspiration as well as cards made from recycled materials support climate solutions and give back to planet-friendly organizations.  

What if you could help the planet with just the swipe of a credit card? Granted, for the eco-conscious consumer, that would probably result in a rather hefty billing statement. But the flip side is that your purchases would help fund environmental solutions and tackle issues like climate change and deforestation. But just how impactful are purpose-driven credit cards, and how do they stack up to traditional cards? 

The environmental impact of credit cards

Banks issue more than six billion credit cards each year—cards that must be replaced every few years.

The problem is that credit cards are inherently unsustainable; the vast majority of them are made from non-biodegradable PVC. But their environmental impact extends far beyond a 3.375-inch by 2.125-inch piece of plastic.

a person shopping
Courtesy Arturo Rey | Unsplash

Given that studies show that people are likely to spend more money with a credit card than with cash, credit cards do nothing but feed our consumptive habits, which have been linked to a host of environmental problems like resource depletion and pollution. 

“Most of the environmental issues we see today can be linked to consumption,” Gary Gardner, director of publications for Worldwatch Institute, told National Geographic

“As just one small example, there was a story in the newspaper just the other day saying that 37 percent of species could become extinct due to climate change, which is very directly related to consumption,” he continued.

Credit cards: to swipe or not to swipe?

Financially speaking, it’s possible to function without the use of a credit card—but they sure do have their perks. 

When used responsibly, credit cards can help you build credit. They can come in handy during an emergency, giving you the ability to make a big purchase without putting a ding in your savings account. They typically also offer zero liability protection, protecting you from unauthorized charges resulting from fraud or stolen cards.

Eco-conscious consumers looking to minimize the impact of their spending habits don’t have to forego credit cards altogether. Some banking institutions are working to eschew first-use plastic.

Contactless payment credit card
Some companies are choosing to give up physical cards altogether. | Courtesy Christiann Koepke via Unsplash

Earlier this year, investment banking firm Citigroup introduced recycled plastic for its corporate cards, which will be rolled out in the EMEA region before being distributed worldwide.

Bank of America also announced that its credit and debit cards will be made from at least 80 percent recycled plastic starting in 2023. The corporation, which issues 54 million consumer and commercial cards each year, says the move will help to reduce more than 235 tons of single-use plastics from going to landfills. 

“Shifting to a recycled card product is another step toward a more sustainable solution which will help foster a circular economy,” Mary Hines Droesch, Bank of America’s Head of Consumer and Small Business Products, said in a press release.

As contactless payment services like Apple Pay grew in popularity amid the coronavirus pandemic, some companies are choosing to give up physical cards altogether. In October, lease-to-own company FlexShopper launched FlexWallet, a virtual credit card that enables consumers to make purchases without cash or traditional credit cards.

Aspiration: credit card with a purpose

While the aforementioned credit cards may help keep plastic out of landfills, they do nothing to mitigate the environmental impact of purchases. Enter: purpose-driven credit cards. Instead of investing your money into industries that harm the planet, there are eco-friendly cards that help to support climate solutions and give back to planet-friendly organizations.  

Founded in 2013, the sustainable financial services company Aspiration launched its Zero credit card in 2021. It offers users the opportunity to neutralize their carbon footprint with each purchase. (The company also has an eco-friendly debit card made from recycled ocean plastic.)

Made from biodegradable, plant-based materials, the “Card for Treehuggers” partners with reforestation groups like the Arbor Day Foundation, One Tree Planted, and Eden Reforestation to plant one tree each time you make a purchase. As of October 2021, the company had planted more than 35 million trees over the course of 12 months.

The card does have its downsides—there is a $60 annual fee and cash-back rewards are minimal. But users can earn up to one percent cash back on purchases each month. 

“Aspiration Zero is more than a credit card—it will offset the average person’s entire carbon footprint just by using it once a day,” Andrei Cherny, Aspiration’s CEO and co-founder, said in a press release. “Millions of Americans are joining the fight against the climate crisis in their home, in their car, in the grocery store. Now, for the first time ever, they can bring that fight to their wallet.”

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