New UK plastic banknotes: A greener alternative

Bank of England Video Screenshot
Bank of England Video Screenshot

The Bank of England has just launched a public consultation programme over the next two months on whether to print polymer banknotes.

The consultation ends on 15 November 2013 with the final decision to be made by the end of the year (2013) and the potential introduction of the new notes in 2016 at the earliest.

As a background to the consultation, the Bank of England has spent three years researching the relative merits of using polymer notes versus traditional cotton fibre and linen rag. Its research included a life cycle analysis (LCA) of the two materials, carried out by consultancy PE International. The UK study noted that polymer banknotes last 2.5 times longer than paper ones and this was “the main factor leading to their stronger environmental performance”.

The study found that polymer “showed benefits over cotton paper for all the main phases of the life cycle”. The only area in which paper notes outperformed their plastic counterparts was in terms of their ozone creation potential. Other studies have produced similar results in favour of polymer.

It should be remembered that many other countries already have plastic notes, such as Singapore and Canada. Indeed, a Canadian LCA study showed the plastic notes had 32% less impact than cotton-based equivalents in terms of their global warming potential and used 30% less energy. Durability is a key factor, given the reliance on raw materials for producing new banknotes as old ones wear out.

Two short YouTube videos are available from the Bank of England:

What are polymer banknotes?
A short video with Victoria Cleland, Head of Notes Division at

Why is the Bank of England considering polymer banknotes?
A short video interview with Chris Salmon, the Bank’s Executive Director, Banking Services and Chief Cashier at

If you want to access further information about the plans to introduce polymer banknotes, please go to the Bank of England website at, where you can make comments on the plans to introduce polymer banknotes at

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