WASHINGTON

— Passionate about pollution? Use plastic to say so.




Greenpeace has issued a biodegradable MasterCard to give environmentalists a forum and Greenpeace a penny or two every time the card is used.
“We believe every time someone uses this card they’re sending the plastic industry and the world the message that they will support environmentally safe alternatives to polluting practices,” said Deborah Rephan, a press officer for Greenpeace USA.
The new credit card issued by
Household Credit Services, a subsidiary of Household International, allows cardholders to charge their way to a greener earth. A small percentage of every purchase is sent to the environmental group.


Feeling
good carries a price



But experts warn that while it may feel great to use a credit card linked to a good cause, it may not be good for the wallet, especially if the card carries a high annual percentage rate. In particular, consumers who carry a balance from month to month would be better off using a card with a lower annual percentage rate and writing a check to a cause close to their hearts.
The Greenpeace MasterCard has a variable APR of 16.9 percent that will never fall lower than 15.75 percent. It has no annual fee. Launched May 4, the Greenpeace MasterCard is made from a plant-based polymer. It looks and feels like other credit cards but it does not contain polyvinyl-chloride, commonly known as vinyl.
Rephan called vinyl “the most poison plastic.” Its production and disposal releases harmful chemicals into the environment including dioxin, a carcinogen. Greenpeace has been working for many years to phase out the use of vinyl worldwide. In addition, card statements and mailings will be printed on chlorine-free and recycled paper.
Biodegradable, vinyl-free Greenpeace credit cards have also been issued in the United Kingdom and Brazil.
“This is a concrete way for us to get our message out and to give the public a way to get involved and take some action,” Rephan said.


Companies
won’t tell how much



Greenpeace, which has 500,000 members in the United States, hopes the credit cards will generate $100,000 in donations in a year. Neither Greenpeace nor Household would say how much of each credit card purchase would be donated to the environmental group.
Experts say such arrangements are typical.
“It’s the rule rather than the exception that they won’t tell the consumer how much of a donation is being made to the sponsoring organization,” said Gerri Detweiler, author of
The Ultimate Credit Handbook and education Adviser for
Debt Counselors of America. “Typically, it’s very, very small. Usually, pennies per purchase.”
Jeff Baxter, president of SJ Baxter & Associates in Forest Hill, Md., said credit card issuers and nonprofit groups share revenues in many different ways. Typically, a donation, usually 5 cents to 10 cents, is made with each transaction. Or a small percentage of the sales placed on the card is given to the sponsoring organization.
Baxter estimated that a cardholder who makes $3,000 in purchases will donate about $5 to $10 to the sponsoring organization.
“The whole point of the cards is the donation is painless, it’s automatic and you don’t have to think about it,” Baxter said.



It all adds up





Fleet Financial Group has been issuing its Working Assets credit cards since 1986. Each time a purchase is made with the card, 10 cents is donated to Greenpeace, Amnesty International, AIDS Action Council, Rain Forest Action Network, the Children’s Defense Fund or other nonprofit groups. The cards have raised more than $7 million.
Working Assets credit cards boast a 9.9 percent APR on all purchases and balance transfers made in the first year. After that a variable rate, currently 18.4 percent, applies. It has no annual fee.
Experts say consumers who often carry balances on their credit cards should think twice about applying for cards with high interest rates, regardless of the cause the cards may be attached to. Ken McEldowney, executive director of Consumer Action, an advocacy group based in San Francisco, suggests sticking with a card with a low APR and making a tax-deductible donation to a favorite group or cause.
“Otherwise, you’ll lose far more money in interest payments than you would give in terms of contributions.”

Feel
good credit cards
Greenpeace MasterCard
Issuer Household Credit Services
Cause Greenpeace
Donation Undisclosed portion of each purchase made with the card
APR Prime+8.4, currently 16.9%. The APR will never be lower than 15.75%
Annual Fee None
Working Assets MasterCard or Visa
Issuer Fleet Financial Group
Cause Various nonprofit groups including Greenpeace, Amnesty International, AIDS Action Council, Rain Forest Action Network and the Children’s Defense Fund.
Donation 10 cents each time a purchase is made with the card
APR Prime+9.9, currently 18.4%
Annual Fee None
Target Guest Card
Issuer Retailers National Bank
Cause K-12 School of shopper’s choice
Donation 1% of each card purchase
APR All states except Illinois and Ohio—21%, in Illinois and Ohio — 21.6%
Annual Fee None