business circular economy

Recycling old bank cards in a circular economy

What do you do with your old bank cards? I suspect that most of us scissor them into pieces and put them in different bins. I think that’s what we’re supposed to do with them, even though it means dispatching those little shards of plastic into landfill for all time. They’re too small to process any other way. And that’s a shame, because bank cards are made with tough and durable PVC that is 100% recyclable.

Renato Soares de Paula is a Brazilian businessman who owns a company that makes plastic cards. He began thinking about the reverse logistics of his product, which could include store cards, membership cards or gift tokens as well as bank cards. Was there any way to get them back at the end of their useful life, and re-use the plastic?

His company’s solution is a machine called the Papa Cartao. It’s a sturdy box with a slot at the top and a handle. You push an obsolete card into it, crank the handle, and watch through the window as it’s shredded. The boxes are placed in banks, airports, shopping centres, stations and other public places. When they’re full, the company collects the sliced up cards and recycles them into new cards or other products.

The scheme has been running for a few years now, first in Sao Paulo and then around Brazil. 1.1 million cards have been collected and recycled so far.

Here’s the best bit: this is a better way to do business. The company pioneering this technique has cut costs, giving them an edge on the competition. As others see what they’re doing, they’ll have to start recycling cards too if they want to keep up. “We are naturally being sent in this direction” says CEO Renato Soares de Paula. “The business model changed.” As the economy moves towards more circular approaches to materials, eventually you just can’t afford to do things the old linear way.

There’s nobody in Britain doing this yet as far as I’m aware, so here’s a gift of an opportunity for you for any bank employees reading. Move first on this, get these in your high street branches and in local malls, and you’ll be the ones reaping the PR rewards.


    1. Yes, I’ve come across biodegradeable cards, and cards that you can put into a normal recycling bin. Bank cards are a unique form of waste – durable enough to last four or five years in a wallet, but loaded with visible personal information that you want to see destroyed when you’re done with it. The Papa Cartao system seems like a good compromise, because you can see the card has been shredded and the plastic still gets reused.

    1. Yes, you can order a plectrum press on the internet and make your own. I’ve been tempted to get one myself, except that I find bank card plectrums a little too stiff for my own nylon strings.

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