Worldwide, more than 19 billion plastic cards are now produced annually. In Canada, the average adult is likely to have at least one debit and two credit cards, as well as a wide assortment of other information and membership cards.

Now entering the busiest shopping period of the year, this is the season when our plastic really gets a workout. Based on data from pervious years, Canadians are likely to buy more than $40 billion worth of goods using their credit and debit cards this December.

Currently, about 400,000 retail locations accept debit cards and 700,000 locations accept credit cards. Most Canadian retail transactions are now paid by plastic, with paper and coin currency accounting for only about one-quarter of the value of transactions.

In addition to our payment cards, we have rewards cards, gift cards, membership cards, health and hospital cards, identity cards, library cards, security cards, and dozens of other cards serving various functions.

“Society would not function as it does today without plastic cards. Their value lies in how they seamlessly enhance life from the perspective of convenience, trust and peace-of-mind that we have all come to benefit from,” says Karl Theo, Director, Payment Systems and Solutions, Giesecke & Devrient Systems Canada, Inc., a leading international technology provider.

Jim Simpson, Vice President of Sales and Marketing in Canada for ABnote North America, notes that Canada is a leader in the migration from magnetic-stripe to chip cards. In the future, plastic cards containing microchips will be able to perform a variety of operations. For example, Simpson notes that a single card could be used to pay bills, provide access to public transit and collect frequent flyer points.

And coming soon – cards with digital screens, and cards that can be personalized with photos or images selected by the consumer.

From the first widely-accepted credit card, issued by Diner’s Club in 1950, vinyl plastic has been the preferred material.

“In today’s highly mobile, interconnected world, plastic is the medium of exchange,” says Mark Badger, President and CEO of the Canadian Plastics Industry Association (CPIA).

“Other materials have been tried, but plastic is king. It is lightweight, durable, waterproof, versatile and cost-effective. And because it can be embedded with microprocessor chips, it is the smart card of the future,” Badger adds.

Most of us take it for granted, but the ubiquitous plastic card really does make the world go around. “It provides us with convenience, instant and secure access to our funds, and a host of other essential services,” says Felipe Papaleo of the CPI Card Group-Canada, a global card producer.

Papaleo notes that this is the time of year when card manufacturers are running at capacity to keep up to the demand as Canadians use plastic to shop, entertain, travel and bank.

North America is still the largest market for plastic cards (taking about 45 per cent of global annual production), while the fastest growth is in the Asia Pacific region which has now surpassed Europe as the number-two market for plastic cards.