Are Credit Cards Bad For The Environment?

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I was at the coffee shop this morning and, much to my dismay, did not have three dollars with which to pay the lady for my sanity and large muffin. This led to me reaching for plastic charge cards, which, if you didn’t know, means she now has to foot some of my bill.

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See, credit card companies assume the risk that something bad will happen in between the time I receive my product and they receive their money (the merchant gets theirs instantly)–and therefore take a small percentage for their trouble.

I always feel bad when this happens in a mom-and-pop business, which my coffee shop is as Starbucks has yet to conquer my block and probably has no interest in it. But if credit cards are bad for small business owners, who may only get 95 cents on the dollar, what do they do to the planet?

Directly, not much. And I’m guessing that if we’d go so far as to abolish cash, they’d be awesome. But there’s one problem: that’s not happening, and it’s been proven that credit makes us all greedy. Credit cards do increase the consumption of paper on a phenomenal scale (You going to balance your charges? Really? Then you don’t need a copy of your receipt for that mochalatte, ok?). For one thing, we get a lot of receipts for items we didn’t used to in the past, and when we do, we get two where there would have been one in the past (bear in mind, I’m treating checks vs. cash as equals, even though they’re not; that’ll make your head explode). Then there’s the millions of processing machines (when’s the last time you saw a knucklebuster?) and the power that they draw.

Add to that the fact that credit cards are made of a plastic blend starring such tough to recycle all-stars such as PVC, and credit cards seem like they may be the bane of humanity. Of course, cash isn’t much better–the U.S. still makes our money out of a majority cotton blend, which is raised on a steady diet of petroleum-based fertilizers, and our coinage is comprised of copper, zinc, nickel, tin, and manganese in varying combinations, all of which require some serious effort to mine and refine. Credit cards in a stand-alone capacity would doubtless represent a serious upgrade over this system, especially with the abolishment of the gold standard.

The wild card? The aforementioned article about credit cards increasing our consumer spending habits. As we spend more, all of our resources become depleted in the “race to replace.” This invention aside, credit cards seem to serve as a method of magnifying your present footprint; if you already do more harm that good, credit simply magnifies it; if you live a green lifestyle, consider living cashless one facet of that.

By new Environmental Graffiti contributor Ben Ray. Ben is a freelance writer, check him out at What’s Required


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