It has now been almost seven years since the first polymer banknotes were released in Canada. While the odd paper bill still turns up now and then, the days of paper banknotes must feel like a thing of the distant past for many Canadians. In this post we shall provide a brief history on the adoption of polymer notes worldwide, as well as list the advantages of their use.
History of Polymer Banknotes
The story of plastic money begins all the way back in 1967, on the other side of the world. At this time, Australian authorities discovered a significant number of forged $10 notes in circulation. With concerns over counterfeiting on the rise due to the introduction of colour photocopiers that same year, funds were soon made available for research and experimentation in the production of distinctive papers.
In 1972, a proposal was made for the insertion of an OVD (optically variable device) strip made of plastic into paper notes. Through the 1970s and 1980s, several companies engaged in experiments with polymer currency; ultimately, a joint effort between the Canadian engineering firm AGRA Vadeko and the US Mobil Chemical Company, saw the production of one of the more successful designs: DuraNote. Developed from polymer substrate, it would eventually be tested by the central banks of 28 countries.
Australia was the first to adopt the polymer banknote, doing so in 1988. Other countries would follow suit however, and as of 2014 at least seven countries have made the full transition to polymer bank notes.
Plastic Beats Paper
Throughout much of the world in the past few years there has begun a growing backlash against the use of plastic, and rightly so. Plastic can take up to 1000 years to decompose in landfill sites, it has begun to overrun many of the world’s cities and its presence in our oceans and waterways kills and maims countless fish and marine mammals every day. Not to mention the fact that plastic microfibres have been found to contaminate at least 83% (and rising) of the world’s drinking water – the health effects of which are yet to be determined.
With all of this in mind, wouldn’t you think making banknotes out of plastic would have a negative impact? For some of the very reasons listed above, maybe not. Afterall, because of plastic’s much greater durability, its replacing of paper in more and more of the world’s currencies is actually a pretty good thing from an environmental perspective.
Fewer bills need to be produced less frequently, which means a far lower environmental impact than when paper banknotes, made of cotton-fibre, were in use. The lower costs involved in producing and maintaining the polymer banknotes is also a great thing for the taxpayer; and of course, the greatly increased security features of polymer have drastically cut down on counterfeiting. All in all, despite complaints of greater difficulty handling the bills and the faint smell of maple syrup emitting off some of the bills (though the Bank of Canada refutes this sensation), the benefits to polymer banknotes seem to outweigh any of those the old paper bills used to have.
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