“Paper or plastic?” The question has moved way beyond the grocery store.
The Canadian government in mid-2011 announced a switch to banknotes made from plastics instead of paper. While the idea of plastic currency may seem strange to those living in the United States, Canada in fact joins dozens of countries with plastic banknotes in circulation. Australia, one of the leaders of this trend, has used plastic banknotes for nearly two decades.
Why the switch from the traditional material? The inherent fragility of paper-based banknotes has long been troublesome. Who hasn’t accidentally run money through the laundry, resulting in tattered and torn bills? Or been frustrated by a vending machine that refuses to accept a worn dollar bill?
In contrast, plastic bills – or “polymer banknotes” as they’re officially named – last up to four times longer, due to plastics’ durability. Plastic bills resist tearing and creasing, and they make it through the laundry cycle essentially unharmed. According to the Australian banknote makers, the plastic material also is less prone to harbor bacteria.
Plastic currency also is more difficult to counterfeit. The new Canadian $100 bill, for example, has a transparent plastic security window that is extremely difficult to forge. The bill also includes holographic images and special raised ink in the numerals and portrait – features that cannot be reproduced by photocopying or scanning.
And plastic currency has some environmental pluses. Since the bills last longer, they are produced less often, reducing material, energy, transportation and other impacts. Australia and some other countries also recycle the bank notes after their useful life — Canada plans to do the same.
Alas … Despite these benefits, the U.S. presently has no plans to switch its cotton and linen banknotes to plastics.