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Circular credit cards: Mastercard, HSBC and TerraCycle launch recycling program

The initiative will be piloted across select HSBC banks where customers can securely recycle old cards in-branch.

A stack of 4 credit cards

Image via Shutterstock/Kenishirotie

Payment card provider Mastercard has joined forces with banking giant HSBC and recycling specialist TerraCycle to launch a credit card recycling initiative across select HSBC branches in a bid to tackle the plastic waste that results from the UK's credit and debit cards.

The pilot recycling scheme will allow people to drop off their expired payment cards for recycling into secure, dedicated collection boxes inside bank branches where the cards are then shredded and the built-in chip destroyed for security.

The shredded waste is then shipped to recycling partner TerraCycle which specialises in recycling hard-to-recycle products, such as toothpaste tubes, mascara wands and coffee pods.

The card waste will be separated and the plastic reformed into pellets and powders that can be reused in other products. 

According to Mastercard, most of the 25 billion payment cards  in circulation today are made from virgin plastics such as PVC which will not break down or decompose and are difficult to recycle because of the metals and other materials embedded in the cards. As a result, the majority end up being sent to landfill or waste-to-energy plants.

Ajay Bhalla, Mastercard's president of cyber and intelligence, said the company envisions a future where all plastic cards can be recycled easily, making "a small but meaningful dent" in the plastic pollution crisis.

Bhalla said the blueprint for the new pilot recycling scheme could be replicated across the world, enabling the collection, transportation and recycling of billions of cards.

Mastercard recently made the decision to only use sustainable materials in all its new payment cards from 2028, while also pushing for a wider shift towards digital payments, including through its Digital First program which allows cardholders to opt out of having a physical card entirely.

The company added that it has been exploring ways to recycle its plastic cards and develop cards using more sustainable materials since 2018 through its DigiSec Lab in northern England. 

Since 2021, Mastercard said more than 403 financial institutions and fintechs from 92 countries have joined push to develop "a more sustainable way to pay" by issuing more 235 million Mastercard cards made from approved recycled, recyclable and bio-sourced materials, including recycled ocean plastic or bioplastics which are made from sugar or corn.

However, it said it is "calling on all card issuers to take the next step by working with us to provide recycling for existing first-use plastic cards".

The company said it can provide clients with access to its recycling expertise as well as enable connections with its recycling partners to help organise new programs that can "maximise impact with minimal cost and effort."

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