The life cycle of an eco-friendly bank card. Can credit card plastic be recycled?

Aurel Constantin 23/08/2022 | 22:41

The amount of plastic used to produce banking cards every year is equivalent to the weight of 80 Boeing 747s. The 3,5 billion banking cards (source ABI Research Q1 2022 – Cards shipment) made every year produce a carbon footprint equal to 300,000 passengers flying from New York to Sydney.


Developing a life cycle strategy for an eco-friendly card involves a global approach. Banks have to choose the right technology, processes, and products to substantially reduce adverse environmental impacts such as energy consumption, carbon footprint, and plastic waste. With its payment card solutions and services, Thales supports banks to implement environmentally-friendly and sustainable practices.

Thales Gemalto Bio-Sourced (PLA) Card


One way to avoid plastic waste is to use alternative eco-friendly materials. Thales Gemalto Bio Sourced PLA cards replace 84% of fossil-based PVC with bio-sourced PLA made from non-edible corn. Polylactic acid (PLA) is a sustainable plastic substitute made with renewable bio-sourced resources such as corn. It is non-petroleum-based and non-toxic if incinerated. Thales was the first card manufacturer to provide a PLA card body for banking cards. More than 10 million Thales PLA cards have been delivered to customers all around the world.

Plastic waste is also having a devastating impact on our oceans. Thales Gemalto Reclaimed Ocean cards are made using 70% plastic cleared from coastal areas. One card contains roughly the equivalent of one reclaimed plastic bottle.  Thales is rolling out Thales Gemalto Reclaimed Ocean Cards, which use plastic reclaimed from coastal areas which would otherwise end up in the world’s oceans.


Thales Gemalto Recycled PVC cards help banks use less first-use plastic. They’re made using plastic waste from the packaging and printing industries and contain 85% less first-use PVC.

Can bank card be recycled?

The answer is YES, but it’s not that obvious. Every banking card is a well-designed compound made up of metals (copper, nickel, gold, aluminium, iron), resin, glass, silicon, and plastics (PVC, PET). This complexity makes recycling credit cards challenging. As part of many other eco-friendly initiatives, Thales DIS decided to have a closer look at reducing and neutralizing the footprint of a banking card, including a responsible and trustworthy service to dispose of it correctly.

How does the recycling process work?

The bank will be the one in charge of collecting the cards from their customer, and Thales DIS acts as an aggregator to shred and store everything in the secured facility. It will then be sent to a recycling facility once it reaches a specific volume. This is what happens in the recycling facility:

Recover plastic energy:

  • The cards contain plastic (like PVC, PLA, PET): all will be incinerated to recover the energy, meaning the heat out from the process. In such a process, Bio-sourced material such as PLA(Poly Lactic Acid) is a better option compared to PVC, as it will not generate toxic gas during the incineration process.

Recycle metals:

  • The heat from the previous process will then be used to recycle the metals within the cards, including gold, palladium, and copper. The metal will be sent to manufacturing for a second-life: gold for jewellery, other metals for wires.

The Thales Gemalto Carbon Offset programme helps companies comprehensively minimise and compensate for their cards’ carbon footprint.

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