Why cards are better for the environment compared to cash?

June 14, 2018

More and more companies are going paperless to reduce their environmental impact. With this in mind, now seems like a good time to ask what is the most environmentally friendly way of making payments? Is using a credit or debit card better for the environment than using cold hard cash?

Are banknotes bad for the planet?

To measure the carbon footprint of traditional banknotes, one must measure the impact of the manufacturing process. According to a 2009 article in ‘The Green Lantern’, the impact of banknotes is fairly high. Banknotes are made from cotton with a weight of 80 to 90 grams per square metre. Although cotton is renewable, its cultivation is land-intensive and uses water, pesticides, and fertilisers. Then there’s the transportation and storage issues. Polymer banknotes such as the new £5 and £10 notes, controversial with vegans, vegetarians, Hindus, and Sikhs because of their use of tallow, may be better for the environment because of their longer shelf life.

The carbon footprint of coins

Coins may have a bigger carbon footprint because extracting metals is environmentally damaging and energy-intensive. Metal has to be mined, smelted, transported to the mint, then hauled around in super-sized trucks. The American Council of Science and Health alleges that hauling 372 billion US pennies across the country since 1980 has led to the emission of 107 million pounds of carbon dioxide. If you fancy doing the maths, the Royal Mint produces two billion coins a year, which also need transporting.

A greener future?

Businesses who wish to make a more positive impact on the environment may wish to start accepting card payments over cash due to its lower environmental footprint. Opting to take card payments isn’t the only way businesses can help reduce paper and metal consumption in terms of currency transactions, they can also cut back on issuing paper receipts.
It’s not just finance either that is considering its impact on the environment. Across all sectors there is genuine interest in a greener future, such as Adidas, who recently sold one million shoes made from recycled ocean plastic, and St John’s Buildings, the paperless barristers’ chambers.