I was at an IT fair recently when I signed up for my first credit card – sometimes I think to myself, how are credit cards related to such fairs? Although I’ve been using credit and debit cards for many years, that day was the first time I’ve signed up for a credit card on my own. I was amazed at how easy it is to obtain a credit card despite having started on my job for only 2 weeks.
Each time I walked past a banks’ booth, its credit card officers will come up to me and shove a copy of the banks’ brochure in my hands. One of the banks in particular had 7 credit cards in its brochures, each with different features for my pick. I could have applied for every single card it offered that day without paying a single cent.
I then asked the credit card officer what is the purpose of having that many cards, to which he replied, they serve different purposes and target groups. If that’s so, why am I eligible for every card out there? In fact, less with the design and privileges of the different cards, I can’t spot any other difference with them. In that case, why can’t they simply combine the privileges of all these cards into one? They all belong to the same bank anyway.
In the end, I applied for 3 cards from that particular bank. One gave me the discounts of lifestyle facilities, while the second, the convenience of taking public transport, and the last because the credit card officer said, take a MasterCard (the other 2 were Visas). Initially excited over the benefits, I was only stricken with guilt when the packages arrived just yesterday. Not only did the packages come with thick stacks of brochures, there was also an additional card for a ready credit line which I did not remember signing up for.
According to statistics obtained by Sierra Club, the annual production of cards totaled over 6 billion worldwide. Enough to form over 50 stacks the height of Mount Everest, or even reach the Moon! Made of Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC), these cards last forever in landfills around the world. Yet, no one seems to take notice of the damage credit cards are doing to our economy and our environment. Perhaps its monetary benefits to GDP figures outweigh that of economic stability, or perhaps its convenience outweigh that of its environmental damage, but one thing for sure, its use is here to stay.
While Sierra Club noted the indifference in attitude of issuers such Visa, MasterCard, JP Morgan-Chase, there is still a lot a consumer can do. First and foremost, stop applying for credit cards which you do not need. One less card in a market where each consumer holds an average of 3.5 cards makes a difference. You may also want to look out for cards with annual fee waiver for at least 5 years (the lifespan of a typical card), unless you are very sure that the waiver will be carried forward every year. Although not exactly measures that will prevent more plastics from being released into the pool of growing economies, these actions will at least help to minimize our carbon footprint and hopefully mitigate a climate crisis.
With the incoming wave of Near-Field Communication (NFC) technologies promising more convenience for credit payment with mobile phones and stickers, are we also seeing the end of these rectangular plastic cards? Then again, mobile phones also pose the problem of electronic trash as each model gets refreshed every 6 months to a year. The only solution then, is to limit our appetite of wants over needs.