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Time to care for the Earth

Week 50, 2006

What exactly do we talk about? The smart card production in 2006 is around 3.2 billion cards, equivalent to 16,000 tons of plastic. But to be more consistent, we should consider the plastic card production at large: more than 15 billion cards. This is equivalent to 75,000 tons of plastic, with smaller amounts of silicon, metal (even some gold), resin, and a few other chemicals.

Most of these cards are made of PVC (Polyvinyl chloride). The PVC is heavily criticized on environmental issues. Greenpeace says: "Of all the plastics, PVC plastic is the most environmentally damaging". The production of PVC involves dangerous explosive materials and the creation of toxic waste and the generation of dioxins. The disposal of PVC creates more environmental problems: if burnt, PVC will release an acidic gas along with dioxins, due to its chlorine content; if landfilled, it eventually releases additives, which can then threaten groundwater supplies. PVC recycling is neither technically nor financially feasible. Studies demonstrate that less than 1% of PVC is currently materially 'recycled'. Dioxins are created when PVC is produced, recycled and disposed of in incinerators.

Besides PVC, ABS (Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene) is also used as a raw material for cards. ABS can be recycled, but the production of 1 kg of ABS requires the equivalent of about 2 kg of oil for raw materials and energy. Other plastic types used in the card industry include polycarbonates and PET (Polyethylene terephthalate) that also have their environmental manufacturing and recycling issues.

So what should we do as an industry? Each industrialist, and more globally each party involved in the industrial process should implement an environmental policy. Some of the major industrialists have already set up policies, such as including environmental concerns in the company's code of ethics, setting a policy to reduce any harmful impact on the environment, and comply with RoHS (Restriction of Hazardous Substances) rules, or avoiding the use of toxic materials prohibited by present or future laws and regulations.

Actions can also be undertaken by the industry customers. For instance, O2 Germany has signed a contract with E.ON, its energy supplier to use only energy-friendly sources. Starting early in 2007 O2 will obtain around 80 percent of its energy needs from renewable energy sources. O2 Germany intends to become the first German mobile network provider to work in a CO2-neutral way by the end of 2008.

Some other actions show the joint commitment of the smart card industry and its major customers. When Barclays Bank in the UK replaces all of its 11 million UK debit cards, the company imposes its supplier Gemalto to contribute to The CarbonNeutral Company, and to pay to have trees planted in a Scottish reforestation project, in an effort to offset the carbon dioxide emissions into the environment.

We, as an industry, have ways to give a positive impact on the planet's environment. Simple measures, or compensations can be found. And besides being good for the Earth, they will be good for the image of companies who undertake them.

Thierry Spanjaard
Chief Editor
Smart Insights