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A popular organic food store in Amsterdam has this sign posted near the entrance:

enter image description here

Welcome!

Marqt accepts all credit or debit cards, free of charge. Thank you for contributing to a safer and cleaner environment.

and in the small print at the bottom:

We cannot accept cash. Thank you for your support.

This claim is repeated more clearly on their web site (HT @Nat):

Even when it comes to the payment method they’ve taken the environment into account; you can only pay with pin, chip or credit card, so keep that in mind when you stop by to buy your groceries! Not using cash really is safer, better for the environment and also faster!

Is there any evidence that the use of credit cards contributes to a "cleaner environment"?

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    The only effect I can think of is that a cashless store doesn't need visits from an armored truck, which saves some fuel consumption... – Nate Eldredge Apr 12 '17 at 4:09
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    Printing hard currency and physically moving it is a much bigger load on resources than making a small handful of plastic cards and storing or sending information electronically. Seems plausible - but numbers and references are needed. – Nij Apr 12 '17 at 7:09
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    the Dutch says "thank you for helping us create a safe work environment and a better environment". It doesn't claim that both or either are caused by paying with plastic, though it is inferred from the rest of the message. I don't know the store, could be they have something else in mind with the environmental claim (maybe relating it to what you buy rather than how you pay for it). – jwenting Apr 14 '17 at 13:08
  • @Flimzy not an argument for cashless society - there are still many times and places, along with philosophical reasons, that justify or even require physical currency of some form. But there is firm reasoning to support elimination where possible. – Nij Apr 18 '17 at 2:02
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    Looks like they do intend to claim that cashless is better for the environment: "Even when it comes to the payment method they’ve taken the environment into account; you can only pay with pin, chip or credit card, so keep that in mind when you stop by to buy your groceries! Not using cash really is safer, better for the environment and also faster!" -"Marqt", Yogi Times. – Nat Jul 6 '17 at 16:05
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This article from 2009 gives a decent breakdown of the factors involved. After about an hour of database searching, I cannot find a life-cycle assessment of credit cards. There are, however, some publications regarding the impact of e-commerce (one example is here). Of course, e-commerce involves buying things online, and not just credit card usage.

As far as I can tell, the environmental impact of a cash vs. credit card based economy has not been thoroughly researched.

  • Sidenote: e-commerce does not equal credit card use. My PayPal account is directly linked to my banking account, for example. – DevSolar Jul 7 '17 at 9:29
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    The additional car ride each day to the bank to cash in the day's revenue and get new spare-change might be measurable. – Philipp Jul 7 '17 at 12:07
  • I definitely think this is something that someone experienced in life cycle assessments could publish, it's just that as far as I can tell, no one has. – Microscone Jul 7 '17 at 12:43

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