A couple of years ago I decided to cut up my credit cards and discontinue using them for good. My goal was to pay off my already accumulated debt and live a debt-free life. It felt so good to cut up those evil cards in tiny pieces and discard them in the trash can. But today I feel ashamed for my actions.
I have just learned that most credit cards are typically made of polyvinyl chloride, or PVC. For those who are unaware of what PVC means, below is a short summary from the Center for Health, Environment and Justice (CHEJ), which coordinates the PVC Consumer Campaign:
“PVC (polyvinyl chloride) plastic, commonly referred to as vinyl, is one of the most hazardous consumer products ever created. PVC is dangerous to human health and the environment throughout its entire life cycle, at the factory, in our homes, and in the trash. When produced or burned, PVC plastic releases dioxins, a group of the most potent synthetic chemicals ever tested, which can cause cancer and harm the immune and reproductive systems. PVC can be recognized by the number 3.”
In addition to being extremely toxic and carcinogenic, PVC is not recyclable. You might cringe after reading the next part of the description:
“PVC cannot be effectively recycled due to the many different toxic additives used to soften or stabilize PVC, which can contaminate the recycling batch. Most consumers do not know that a 3 in the recycle symbol indicates that the plastic is made of PVC, and therefore recycle those products, inadvertently rendering thousands of potentially recycled containers useless. In fact just one PVC bottle can contaminate a recycling load of 100,000 PET bottles.”
Open your wallet and look inside. PVC is the building material behind all those plastic cards in there – ID cards, credit cards, driver’s license, library card, video rental card, membership cards, shopper discount cards, retailer gift cards. All of them.
Each year, there are 10 billion new cards placed in circulation. When these cards are replaced or reach their expiration dates, most of them are thrown in the trash, contributing more than 75 million pounds of PVC material to the waste stream every year. Subsequently, PVC ends up in our drinking water despite the vigorous cleaning tap water goes through.
Still not alarmed? Consider this. In 2006, the United States Census Bureau determined that there were nearly 1.5 billion credit cards in use in the U.S. A stack of all those credit cards would reach more than 70 miles into space — and be almost as tall as 13 Mount Everests. If this number of credit cards were thrown away every three years, the stack of credit cards would reach almost 43 Everests high after a decade.
So each time you cut up and throw away one more plastic card from your wallet, you are adding to that PVC Mount Everest and causing irreversible damage to the environment. Talking about making an impact. I don’t know about you but I feel very guilty over the plastic cards I’ve discarded over the years.
Fortunately, there is something you can do to prevent further damage to our environment. The next time you get an inciting offer from a credit company, think twice before signing up. Save you credit and save your environment by passing on it. As for store cards, you can live without them. You can also opt out of Blockbuster and sign up on Netflix. No membership cards are required there. Some gyms can enter your membership manually instead of swiping a card. If you are creative, you can find even more ways around plastic cards.
Also, you may want to discontinue buying and giving gift cards as presents to family, friends and coworkers. Gift cards are short lived and usually discarded immediately upon depletion. Instead, buy an actual gift or just give them cash.
If you have old plastic card and are looking for away to dispose them, please DON’T CUT AND THROW AWAY in the trash bin like I did. Dumping them with the rest of your recyclables won’t help, as you already read PVC is neither recyclable nor biodegradable. Instead go to Earthworks™ to donate your useless plastic cards. They provides a green alternative to PVC by producing cards made from 100% recycled PVC material. Using this American-made recycled card material conserves energy by reducing the demand for new PVC, and goes a long way toward reducing landfill volume and protecting the environment.
Another company that is revolutionizing the biodegradable plastics market is Discover. In December of 2008, the credit card issuer introduced its first biodegradable credit card. The card plastic is durable for up to four years. After that it degrades quickly when exposed to landfill conditions and breaks down 99% in five years without leaving a toxic effect on the environment.
The Discover initiative could be implemented by other credit card companies as more consumers become aware of the dangers of PVC and demand more environmentally-friendly alternatives. Colleges, libraries, government agencies and stores can follow suit.
One thing to note, however, is that Earthworks and BIOPVC, the company behind the Discover biodegradable cards, both use already existing PVC material to build the renewable option. Their approach, though innovative, is more of a temporary fix. A better solution would be to find an alternative to PVC that has its own renewable origin. This way our government can ban the produce and use of PVC once for all. Until then, we should focus on what we can do individually to decrease your PVC footprint on our planet.
© 2009 Zoe Vaklinova – All Rights Reserved