Are New Notes Bad for the Environment?

On the 13th September, a new five-pound note was introduced into England and Wales’ cash machines, claiming to be cleaner, more durable and resistant. 440 million new bank notes were sent into circulation in total. Since then, there has been a mild debate about the effect this new currency will have on our surrounding environment and ultimately, wildlife. The reasons behind the government’s decision for these updated polymer made currency being a demand in physical notes since the financial crisis resulting in the opportunity cost of cash outside of bank accounts. Furthermore, the immense cost of reimbursement claims for chewed and ripped fivers all costing millions. Motives explained, it is important to consider how polymer notes will really be of any sort of advantage to the environment as oppose to old paper cash.

Unsurprisingly, The Bank of England commissioned an independent study to assess this.The study focused on the entire process a note goes through and compared this to a level of harm using 7 environmental factors. The process includes the production of materials, the manufacturing and printing as well as circulating the finished product. The impact of each of these stages was considered by looking at global warming potential, energy and water usage, ozone creation and toxicity.

The study found that ultimately, polymer notes have lesser environmental destruction than paper notes, shown in 6/7 indicators, the one environmental indicator letting the note down being ozone creation. Firstly, the new fivers last 2.5 times longer than the paper version – meaning the whole process of producing the banknote is carried out 2.5 less times – dramatically decreasing the amount of raw materials needed. Furthermore, paper notes being replaced constantly puts strain on these resources once more and seeing as the plastic cash is water resistant and stronger, there will be a lesser burden on the environment.

Recycling was another argument being held for the pro-paper side and of course it is a simpler process to recycle paper, the Bank of England has said. This said, the pdf also stated that the Bank WILL recycle polymer notes by creating energy for specific plants.

It’s clear that the production of banknotes, whatever form, will do harm to the environment; one breakthrough will lead to another and the future holds the potential for a currency involving no destruction. However, the study did focus on the comparison of paper and polymer and in this instance, it is plastic notes that are more positive for the conservation of our world.

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Rosie Jones

Environmental Studies student in Winchester, UK.

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