Cash Goes Greener

calendar iconApr 23, 2021


Leading organisations in the UK’s cash sector have signed up to a charter establishing ambitious net zero emissions goals and plastic use targets. Following the Sustainability Charter created by the International Currency Association in late 2020, the industry is taking another step towards a greener future for cash.

All payment options have a carbon footprint. Most credit and debit cards are made from PVC plastic that contains oil and is non-biodegradable, retaining its form for decades and eventually breaking down into harmful microplastics. Bitcoin is estimated to use more electricity in a year than the whole of Argentina. Cash requires an extensive infrastructure—from manufacturing through to delivery into people’s hands—and industry leaders are recognising their responsibility to ensure their operations use resources minimally and efficiently.

Members of the International Currency Association led the way in September 2020, signing up to a charter that emphasises corporate social responsibility and sustainable development. It includes requirements to promote adoption of Circular Economy principles—specifically designing waste and pollution out of production processes and integrating sustainability goals throughout organisations—and decreasing emissions in the cash cycle by supporting new technologies with low carbon requirements, and increasing use of renewable energy.

Companies in the currency manufacturing industry have been doing important work on sustainability for many years, and now the ICA’s Sustainability Charter holds them to an agreed framework that encompasses economic, environmental and social equality aspects.
"Jutta BuyseDirectorInternational Currency Association

Following this, the Cash Industry Environment Charter was created, with supporters including the Bank of England and the Post Office, and signatories including AIB, NatWest, Loomis and many other leading banks and companies responsible for cash in the UK.

The charter lays out a number of commitments and targets intended to drive positive change in the industry. Three areas of focus—carbon, energy and plastics—have been agreed, accompanied by specific goals.

  1. Achieve Net Zero carbon for operations by 2030.
  2. Eliminate single-use, non-recyclable plastic in banknote centres by 2030.
  3. Use 100 percent renewable electricity by 2022.

The work of measuring and ensuring adherence to the charter will be undertaken by UK Finance, which also aims to encourage further collaboration within the industry to mitigate the climate impact of cash.

On the cashless front, given the total number of cards issued in the UK rose from 158.9 million in 2018 to 159.2 million in 2019, there is growing pressure on card issuers to improve their green credentials. A new eco-startup is fundraising to become the first company to make cards that offer ‘carbon neutral spending’ and major players are said to be exploring options for making cards out of recyclable, biodegradable or reclaimed ocean plastics.

Bitcoin is proving a greater challenge, being inherently ‘anti-efficient’ according to David Gerard, author of Attack of the 50 Foot Blockchain, a book exploring the origins and history of Bitcoin and the other cryptocurrencies it has since spawned. Gerard explains that Bitcoin’s energy use—and thus its CO2 production—will only continue to spiral, and suggests a carbon tax on cryptocurrencies to help balance their negative consumption.

Last Updated: Apr 23, 2021