Single-use plastic is out. The UK Government has mandated that by 1st October 2023, food and beverage businesses and manufacturers must no longer supply, sell or offer single-use plastic items in England. Whilst the ban only includes food items for now, such as bowls, trays and cutlery, it’s a step in the right direction towards minimising the impact of retail on the planet. However, according to the
OECD, 72% of plastic globally still ends up in landfill or evades waste management. A further 19% is simply incinerated. There’s much more that can be done. I expect, and welcome, further legislation soon.
Given this, it’s time for all businesses and retailers to consider how best to minimise and remove single-use plastic from every step of their operations. Many are making good progress, for example, by encouraging customers to re-use their own bags, or using alternatives to plastic packaging. However, one less immediately obvious area is the reduction and removal of plastic from the check-out when customers come to pay.
Crucially, with payment a key moment for customer interaction, this is an ideal opportunity to go green whilst also improving customer experience (CX).
Reimagining the Physical Card
Importantly, efforts are already being made by large payment processers to reduce plastic where its most obvious – physical credit and debit cards. According to
Mastercard, every payment card contains 5 grams of plastic. With more than 3 billion payment cards created globally every year, that’s enough plastic to wrap around the Earth 6 times when laid end-to-end.
Faced with this, Mastercard, and other card suppliers, are working in partnership with manufacturers across the planet to transition production towards recycled and bio-based materials. With alternative and mobile payments also increasing in popularity, these efforts are being matched with the delivery of digital-first card programs that fully eliminate the need for physical cards altogether.
However, not every consumer chooses to use a physical card when they pay. From a (CX) perspective, retailers must provide a range of payment options. As a result, they have to make efforts to remove plastic from all the options they offer. Vitally, this includes the use of gift cards.
Replacing Single-Use Plastic Gift Cards
Between 2017-2022, a staggering
360 tonnes of plastic waste created by gift cards went to landfill. Gift cards generate a huge amount of plastic waste often hidden in plain sight at the check-out. However, entirely removing gift cards as a form of payment is simply not an option. Data from the
Gift Card and Voucher Association (GCVA) shows that gift cards remain highly popular with consumers, especially Gen Z and Millennial shoppers as 46% and 42% of Gen Z and millennial shoppers, respectively, bought at least one gift card between 2019 and 2022.
However, by rethinking their physical gift card programmes addressing both the cards themselves and the payment systems underpinning their operations, retailers can seek to balance customer demands with their sustainability goals. Working with a leading pan-European fashion retailer, MultiPay incorporated NFC technology into a range of reusable gift keychains. Only requiring a small chip and antenna to operate allowed the designers of the gift keychains to have extra freedom when creating styles and shapes that would appeal to their customers. Crucially, as rechargeable products, the keychains can be topped up and used time and again. The fashionable designs, combined with convenience and functionality, created a product that looked great, appealed to customers, and helped the retailer reduce a vital source of single-use plastic from its operations.
Go Green or Go Extinct
Such is the concern from consumers about green practices that data from
ING Research found almost two-thirds (61%) are less willing to buy a product from a retailer if it performs poorly on environmental practices.
We only need to look to the recent past to see that mammoth brands can quickly go extinct for not keeping up with customer expectations. Blockbuster literally went bust as it lost ground to online players able to stream content directly into their customers’ homes. Similarly, Nokia and Blackberry arrived too late to the smartphone game, despite flying high just years before. In a similar fashion, it’s highly likely that we’ll soon see brands neglecting sustainability go bust and previously loyal customers walk elsewhere.
As a vital part of operations, payments must be included in every retailer’s ESG and sustainability initiatives. Importantly, it can be done so in a way that also positively impacts the CX. A win for the planet, and a win for retail.