Circular Mastercards

Impact: Economic, Environmental, Awareness and understanding, Attitudes and behaviours, Technological


Payment or access cards are typically made of polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and are embedded with an array of metals components. The extremely challenging process of PVC recycling and the separation of the magnetic strip and chip materials mean that down-cycling or landfill is the likely fate of the 6 billion cards brought to market each year. This linear economic model poses a significant economic and environment risk.

In Response, Mastercard have committed to addressing this challenge and are encouraging the adoption of new and sustainable circular economies for these multi-material cards.

To support this, our project partnership with Mastercard is exploring the feasibility of an alternative plastic polymer, Polyethylene terephthalate glycol (PET-G), as a more sustainable base polymer upon which a viable and circular economic model could be built.

The project has developed a lab-scale chemical depolymerisation process able to dismantle PET-G based payment cards into their monomer form facilitating simple recovery of the different plastic and metal card components. We have also shown that the monomers can be isolated and purified allowing them to be either sold as commercial commodities or used to synthesise PET-G to form a closed-loop recycling process.

From here the project explores further viability challenges for a circular economy based upon this process, including;
• the potential for industrial scale-up
• techno-economic assessments of the whole process lifecycle.
• life cycle assessment to evaluate the environmental impact of the depolymerisation process
Impact dateJan 2021
Category of impactEconomic, Environmental, Awareness and understanding, Attitudes and behaviours, Technological
Impact levelBenefit

Research Beacons, Institutes and Platforms

  • Advanced materials
  • Sustainable Futures
  • Manchester Environmental Research Institute
  • Henry Royce Institute
  • Sustainable Consumption Institute