When designing the Unifimoney debit and credit card, we took the time to interrogate the “why?” rather than chasing convention. Instead of building yet another low-value travel rewards card or designing the heaviest metal card on the market, we decided to make a card that delivered maximum value to our customers and a bit of value to the world as well. That’s why we designed the Unifi Premier to automatically deliver cashback in the form of equity, crypto, or precious metals and why we enlisted CPI to build us a card made from ocean-bound plastic. That’s also why we partnered with The Ocean Foundation (TOF) so that every time the card is swiped, a micro-donation is made to help protect and save the oceans.
As of December 2018, there were 20.48 billion credit, debit and prepaid cards in circulation, with more than 6 billion produced every year. A vast majority of those cards are made from first-use plastic and most will never be recycled because of the price of separating the chips and removing the ink. Every year, 8 million metric tons of plastic enter the ocean and if usage and waste continue at current rates, by 2050 there will be more plastic than fish in the sea by weight. It was clear we couldn’t make yet another first-use credit and debit card for our users.
TOF works with programs around the world working to reduce plastic waste in the ocean, to combat ocean acidification, and to curb the effects of global warming on the seas. It was just as clear that they were the perfect nonprofit partner for our ocean-bound plastic card.
With our Unifi Premier card announced, we wanted to check back in with TOF President Mark Spalding to learn more about the incredible work his organization has been doing with ocean and plastic, and to let our users behind the curtain to see why he chose to partner with Unifimoney.
Sure thing, happy to do so! Obviously, with Unifimoney, we're working on plastic and we're really excited about what's going on in that space. We're partnering with the public interest law firm ClientEarth in Europe on policy and we're working with scientists here in the United States. In both cases, we're looking at the toxicity of plastic to really understand how it is likely making us sick and the animals in the ocean sick. Along with that, where looking at the other chemistry aspects of plastic — how it's made?, what additives are in it?, what colorants?, what adhesives?, all that sort of thing — and really thinking through the science to better understand what we could do to make plastic safer, simpler, and more standardized.
In addition to plastic, we're doing a whole bunch of great work on coastal land conservation in Mexico, work on blue carbon — restoring sea grasses, mangroves, and salt marsh estuaries to take up carbon and create resilience — and a big effort on enhancing the blue economy in the Caribbean. It's been remarkably busy, even with the pandemic going on — we've been full on this whole last year.
Yes, exactly! Obviously, what we've got here is a circumstance in which the plastic itself is the problem. The material was created to make things lightweight. It was created to make sure that containers for drinks and other materials didn't break. It was created to make sure that food could stay on the shelf in the grocery store for a long time which could reduce food waste. For all of those tasks, plastic works incredibly well. But right now, our problem is that over 90% of plastic is never recycled. So part of our premise is that while plastic is often useful: in lightweighting transportation, it can even help us with our carbon footprint when we travel by automobile or airplane. If we keep it for those purposes, we can work to make it safer and more recyclable. It's also useful in medical applications — so let's make those products safer and more recyclable as well.
But at the same time, we also are taking a stand on thinking about when it's both useless and wasteful. Often, plastic is the wrong material to have chosen. I think that's a real opportunity for us to talk to consumers about what they're doing by reminding them that they touch something made of plastic throughout the day, every day. It's one thing to have the light switch in your bedroom be plastic — you use it every day, and it's going to be there for decades. It's another thing to use a piece of plastic to hold your bottled water that you're going to drink and then throw away. Even if you put it in the recycling bin, there's only a small chance of it being used again.
We're excited about our partnership with Unifimoney, because every time you pull out your ocean-bound plastic credit card, you are reminded that you should think about what you're using your plastic for and when you're using it, and whether it's something that is wasteful or beneficial to society.
Fantastic question. Because there's so much to do for the ocean, we could take all of the money that all of the philanthropists in the world give every year and spend it on the ocean, and it still wouldn't be enough. But, currently, only about 1-2% of philanthropic money goes to the ocean. So, that's how far off we are — 1% of the charitable giving to take care of the 71% of our planet.
So, psychically for me, knowing that we have this revenue stream coming in, knowing that it's automatic, and knowing that we don't have to spend money asking your card users to make a donation every time is fantastic. It means that we can concentrate more fully on doing our job. It means that we can focus on tackling the plastic problem, do something about carbon entering the ocean and making it more acidic, and do something about making the world more sustainable. That's the beauty of a partnership like this.
Thinking about your choices as you go along is absolutely critical and a critical place of choice is plastic. Because the 90% that's not getting recycled, is either going to landfills or being burned, and a whole lot of it goes into the environment. It's in the soils, it's on the street, and, eventually, it makes its way into the ocean. We're now finding micro particles of plastic in rainfall, snowfall, the foam on a wave crashing on the beach. Clearly, we've made a horrible mistake. But everything we can do to slow that down is going to make a difference. We can make a contribution to the plastic particles in the ocean or we can make a contribution to stopping them.
I think the card in your wallet or purse being a reminder of the plastic that's bound for the ocean is something that everyone needs. I mentioned the light switch in your room, which is a perfectly decent use of plastic, because it's not necessarily going to end up in the environment anytime soon. There are all sorts of other plastics that you touch everyday that are in that category. But the stuff we worry about is the stuff that is single use, or of very few uses, and then is disposed of. The clear plastic bottle is recycled 30-40% of the time, and that's one of the best recycling rates we've got for plastic. That's really sad. So, if the ocean-bound plastic card can be a reminder to bring a glass or stainless steel bottle to work or to school, it is a great step that every single person can take.
One of the things that makes me really hopeful is that for-profit companies like Unifimoney are paying attention to something important for the planet. We're finding that happening more and more often. We're also finding companies who are trying to solve problems. We're currently working with companies who are designing ballast water treatment systems to prevent the introduction of invasive species in our bays and harbors. We're working with companies who are changing propulsion systems for ships to reduce emissions, reduce noise pollution in the ocean, etc. The amazing thing? Every one of them are confident they're going to make a profit doing this.
We're actually advisors to two investment funds that have $600 million in assets under management between them that are buying stocks in companies that have a product or service that's actively good for the ocean. That gives me hope.
In these companies, there are people working on the threats to the ocean and they believe they can work on addressing them and make a profit -- at the same time. That's going to begin happening more and more. Every single business is at risk from the plastic in the ocean. Every single business is at risk due to climate change. If your business is disrupted, it's not good for the planet or your bottom line. So, people are beginning to think: “How can I do something about emissions? How can I do something about energy efficiency? How can I do something about shifting us from fossil fuel to carbon-free energy and get to net zero? In the right time frame?” There's going to be a lot of new products and services as a result, and people are going to make a profit selling those. The creative aspect of our lives has to take us down that path, because otherwise we would just give up, crawl into a corner, roll ourselves in a ball, and cry. So, let’s be creative and solve problems.
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