/ Shopping, Sustainability

Do we still need plastic loyalty cards?

While clearing out my room for a move, I found 32 old plastic membership cards hidden away in my drawers and cupboards – are they really necessary?

32 old cards! My impressive collection spans a few years and consists of loyalty cards for supermarkets, restaurants, coffee chains, health stores and stationery shops.

And that’s not to mention a couple of years’ worth of membership cards for libraries, gyms, leisure centres and breakdown cover.

Why have they all been stashed away and forgotten? Because I don’t need to physically use any of them.

Switching to apps

I’m a fairly casual points and rewards collector, mostly using apps on my phone to store my loyalty card details.

Whenever I’m buying groceries or eating out, I just scan the barcodes stored on my phone to collect my points, or hand over my membership number.

If I need to find my membership number or any other details, I search my emails or check my apps.

I never take my gym card with me when I go, as it operates a pin system on the door. The same goes for my local library when checking out books.

Yet we’re still being sent or issued with unnecessary cards.

I recently signed up to a high street department store’s loyalty scheme at the till. The cashier encouraged me to download their app on the spot to get a discount on my shopping. 

This app has everything I’d need. It contains my membership information, shows my points balance, and can be scanned in store when making a purchase to collect or spend points.

However, a week later I received a completely pointless points card that I’ll never use, plus two smaller cards for my keys.

Card clutter

I also recently received a completely useless card from an online streaming service, complete with unnecessary but important-looking hologram, welcoming me as a member.

These cards aren’t only creating unnecessary clutter or filling up all the slots in our wallets – when trying to get rid of mine I’ve discovered that they generally can’t be recycled.

So unfortunately they went straight off to landfill, where they’ll now sit for hundreds of years. 

If everyone in Britain has as many cards as me lying around, or even more over a lifetime, this is an incredible amount of plastic waste.

I’m not sure why retailers are still sending them out. Is there huge demand for loyalty/membership cards?

Or are they relics of a pre-smartphone world that have never really been questioned? Are companies just trying to make us feel special?

I understand that not everyone has, or is able to, use a smartphone. Perhaps cards could be requested if needed, rather than sent out automatically. What do you think?

I feel that if they were scrapped, we’d have a little less clutter around the home, and less of our personal information lying around, too. Companies would also say themselves money, and do a bit more for the environment at the same time.

Have you got old cards lying around the house? Do you think they’re necessary?


I use Stocard, like Steve does. It’s the best loyalty card app that I’ve found. Unfortunately some retailers, notably Boots and around half of Sainsbury’s branches, have scanners that are incapable of reading smartphone screens, only physical cards, so they have to key in the number manually. Even better than barcodes would be NFC, but Apple prevents NFC from being used on the iPhone for almost everything except Apple Pay.

Better in than out. says:
31 July 2019

The trouble with loyalty apps is that they take up memory space on my phone. When I only use them occasionally or rarely, it’s a pain to load and reload them.

Also I wonder how much data gets used these apps in the background. Plus what extra information are they gleaning from our phones that we don’t know about?

You’re worrying about nothing. Stocard uses just 121.4MB on my phone, comprising 81.7MB for the app itself and 39.7MB for the app’s data. This is just 0.046% of the total 256GB space on my iPhone.

Turn off mobile data so that the app communicates with its servers only via wifi. The app shouldn’t be able to access any data on your phone, particularly if you have an iPhone.

Here we go again! It seems that many people with smartphones assume that almost everybody has one but this is simply not true. Even the cheapest ones would be a very considerable outlay for the many people who have enough problem making ends meet anyway and it costs more to run than a basic mobile. I could afford one but for me it simply isn’t worth the money involved. A further disincentive here in Suffolk is that, while I have excellent signal strength for my basic mobile at home, once out of towns the coverage is notoriously patchy, with many ‘not spots’.
There is also the point that it costs a lot to replace card readers with ones which will also read phone screens and, for example, our Library Service is strapped for cash anyway, without having to replace all the card readers, of which there are quite a few even in a single library.

The discussion is primarily about the majority who do have smartphones rather than the minority who don’t. Of course, if you don’t have a smartphone, you’ll find it easier to carry plastic cards. But for the majority who do have a smartphone, retailers should be moving away from plastic and encourage virtual loyalty cards, not least in the interests of the environment.

Lessismore says:
15 September 2019

So you have a smartphone – an awful lot of people don’t – or if they do they only use it for a certain number of functions.

When the tills go down at the supermarket there are a lot of people unable to buy their supper on the way home. I know, I’ve seen it. I’ve also seen the way that some people seem to have learnt no food management and have no more than – if they do have – a tin of baked beans in the store cupboard. They buy food to put in the fridge and then often fail to manage it properly and waste it at the end of a week. Hungry people tend to turn into grumpy people who will blame everyone else for their lack of foresight. Who will you invite yourself to supper with?

It only gives you an amount of freedom while it works and while you are in possession of your phone. And it doesn’t always.

Did you see the BBC programme – Digital Future: The New Underclass?

Apparently one in five of us has difficulty dealing with day to day technology.

BTW out of date loyalty cards make good ice scrapers for your car windscreen – if you have one.
But then personal cars are now on their way out of fashion too – we have poor air quality and a climate emergency – and should all be constantly reassessing our needs and how to reuse and repurpose.

Surely the answer is to be more selective and not to buy or collect things if you don’t need them?

Lessismore says:
17 September 2019

That was actually a Radio 4 radio programme rather than a TV one. Information that more people should be aware of.

So after months of thinking of doing this I finally got around to doing it because the chip in one of my store cards stopped working. Convenient for me but I am sure there are many people who won’t be able to or want to do it.