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Filtering the Noise Around Sustainable Cards

The advantage of leading the market with new product innovation is the good fortune of influencing the field for a while. In the U.S., that happened in 2019 when CPI launched Second Wave®. These payment cards enabled CPI to lead the eco-focused card market in units shipped that year. Creating a use for recovered ocean-bound plastic in the core of debit and credit cards felt really good, and it felt even better when the idea was embraced by issuers and cardholders. Since then, other producers (and competitors) have highlighted their own eco-options and adoption is growing rapidly.

That’s great news!

Is it surprising that CPI is encouraging its competitors to enter the space? Well, it is a good thing when considering that the ultimate goal is to reduce the environmental impact of payment cards. In that context, CPI welcomes more organizations to the party. Competition in the market, plus the Mastercard announcement that will require cards to reduce reliance on first-use PVC solidifies that the future of payment cards is eco-focused. However, just like at a real-life party, the more people that join, the louder things get.

As the Field Becomes Crowded, the Messaging Gets Confusing

The centerpiece of marketing by many card issuers has been to focus on the percentage of card content that is recycled, giving the impression that the number is the only consideration to be made. The focus is understandable, and big, round numbers are certainly attention-grabbing. CPI is on a mission to educate the financial industry on all of the factors that contribute to us realizing success in our eco journey.

Make Sure the Numbers Add Up

When “100% recycled” messages are promoted, the key is to understand what producers are, and what they are not, counting. Functional payment cards need embedded technology, which naturally means magnetic stripes, smart chips, and metal contactless antennas would be excluded from consideration towards “recycled material.” In other words, 100% recycled is not going to mean 100% of the full card build. At CPI, 100% recycled means that all layers of the card are made with recycled PVC, including the core, print layers and overlay.

Since we’re on a mission to educate, here are some good questions to ask:


What is the makeup of the card, and what is the makeup of the recycled material in the card?

Is the claim related to the percentage of the recycled input or only the plastic components?

How does this card producer account for plastic additives?

Plastics, whether they are recycled or not, need stabilizers, extenders, and plasticizers to perform well. Card producers should be ready and able to discuss their additive content.

Can I expect the same coloring and logo quality and consistency outcome with a higher eco content card?

Has the makeup of the card been verified by any third parties?

One Size Does Not Fit All

High percentages of recycled material are admirable, but the amount of recycled content does highly influence the design elements that can be applied. Sometimes an issuer’s brand standards or artwork needs require certain treatments that lower the recycled material percentage. It is more important to strike the right balance between design and percentage of content, than to be simplistic about a content score. Look to work with a payment card producer that has experience and can tailor a solution to balance design with material.

Another consideration is that some eco-focused cards offer advantages that support an overall brand story. For example, cards made with recovered ocean-bound plastic can be a natural fit with airline miles and travel rewards cards aimed at protecting the shoreline or improving ocean health. Similarly, a corporate sustainability initiative that focuses on reducing resources, or increasing recycling would benefit from card options that are made of a high level of recycled plastic. Consider how your payment products can promote or support your organization’s objectives.

The Leverage of Our Experience

CPI is pleased that the move towards more environmentally-friendly payment cards is taking root for financial institutions. Perhaps one day soon the use of recycled plastics for credit and debit cards will be standard practice across the industry. In the meantime, we see card issuers of all shapes and sizes searching for the right path forward.

After five years, millions of eco-focused cards sold and numerous eco-focused solutions developed, we have the experience and expertise needed to guide your eco journey. We take this mission very seriously, which is why every conversation starts with a consultative approach. Whether you’re interested in a partnership with CPI, or just want to learn more about how your business can make a difference, our subject matter experts are here to help! Ready to learn more?

Learn more about Second Wave and Earthwise

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About the author

JD Porter

is CPI's Chief Commercial Officer

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