Greenpeace has found a form of plastic it can support — and the environmental group hopes the plastic will return the favor.
The plastic in question is both a resin and a credit card.
The Co-operative Bank plc of Manchester, England, is issuing a Greenpeace Visa card made of biodegradable Biopol resin.
The bank will give the environmental group £5 ($8.45) for each new customer who signs up for the card and 25 pence (42 cents) for every £100 ($169) spent by card holders.
The card will be available only to British customers.
Corporate participants in the venture include Monsanto Europe SA of Brussels, Belgium, which supplies the Biopol resin used for the card, and NBS Ltd.'s Card Systems Division of Weybridge, England, which manufactures the card.
The Biopol product helped Greenpeace overcome its distaste for traditional credit card materials.
``We have been considering offering our supporters a credit card for some time, but it would have been wrong for a charity like ourselves to issue a card made of PVC,'' Peter Melchett, executive director of Greenpeace, said in a news release.
Greenpeace has targeted PVC for ``elimination'' because the organization claims production and destruction of the resin creates harmful dioxins.
PVC industry sources argue the amounts of harmful dioxins released because of PVC are minuscule, and do not impact the environment.
Even though it was touted as an environmentally friendly alternative to PVC, Biopol will not be relegated to green-themed cards.
``We believe that this is a glimpse of the future,'' Terry Thomas, managing director of Co-operative Bank, said in a news release.
``Eventually all credit cards could be made out of biodegradable material,'' he said.
A bank spokesman, who declined to be identified, said the Co-operative Bank will try to convert all of its 2 million credit cards to Biopol, or a similar, biodegradable plastic, by the year 2000.
He said it had cost more to produce cards with Biopol than with PVC because of the ``small scale'' of the initial effort. Later, when more cards are made with Biopol, the cost differences ``won't be material,'' he said.
Even with the switch to Biopol, the cards still will contain trace amounts of PVC in the inks, adhesives and magnetic strips. But the bank promises to eliminate PVC completely from the card ``within 12 months,'' according to the bank spokesman.
Greenpeace's acceptance of Biopol may show just how far the group is willing to go to avoid PVC.
While Biopol does not contain chlorine and is not produced from petrochemicals, it still is derived from a high-tech, biochemical process.
Bacteria that feeds on plant sugars produce a polyhydroxybutyrate/valerate copolymer, Biopol's raw material.
Monsanto harvests the raw resin from the microorganisms and processes the material into Biopol.
Monsanto claims the resin can be processed like fossil-fuel plastics. Biopol uses include moldings, containers, coatings, laminates, films, sheets and fibers. Besides the newly introduced cards, other commercialized applications include disposable cups, eating utensils, planters, fishing nets, composting bags and packaging for beauty products.
For the credit card application, Monsanto supplies Biopol granules to a sheet extrusion company, which in turn makes the Biopol sheet stock and laminates for NBS, according to Malcolm Forsyth, a Monsanto Europe spokesman who responded to faxed questions.
NBS produces the Greenpeace cards with the same machines as its PVC cards, but uses different settings, Forsyth said.
Credit cards made of Biopol are stable during use but decompose in composting environments, Monsanto claims.
Monsanto Co. of St. Louis, acquired the Biopol business from Britain's Zeneca Group plc — itself a spinoff from London-based Imperial Chemical Industries plc — in April 1996.
So far, all the uses for Biopol have been focused in Europe and Japan, according to Stacey Sobel, a spokeswoman for Monsanto Co.'s Life Sciences division in St. Louis.
Sobel added that there are no immediate plans for Biopol credit cards in the United States.
``I don't think there is an application [for Biopol] in the United States at this time,'' Sobel said, noting that the United States lags Europe and Japan in composting facilities.
``Once the U.S. has composting systems in place, we'll expand here,'' she said.
Some U.S. businesses have been talking with Monsanto about Biopol, but commercial uses for the resin are ``still in the developmental stage'' as Monsanto works to reduce production costs, Sobel said.