Friday, November 18th, 2011

Canada’s New Plastic Bank Notes – Security, Economics, Carbon Footprint

Protecting its national currency against counterfeiting was the primary motivation for Canada’s new currency, but business and environmental factors were also critical in the decision to switch the bank notes from paper to plastic. Plastic had a clear advantage on all fronts, including a smaller carbon footprint than paper, and the result is the issue of the $100 note, the first in the Polymer Series of printed currency. And a solid endorsement of the ecological efficiency of plastics.

Canadian $100 plastics bank note

Printing is sharper on plastic than on paper

Credit goes to an exceptionally thorough development program by the Bank of Canada, working with a team of physicists, chemists, engineers, and other technical experts assembled between 2001 and 2004, a period when counterfeiting of Canadian money was spiking upward. Planning of the Next Generation Project (of currency) began then, with an emphasis on stopping counterfeiting, and in 2006 the Bank announced it intended to issue a new series of notes starting in 2011.

Among the many security features are a holographic foil stripe in a clear vertical window. The stripe’s large, brilliant, complex images are visible from both sides of the note. Another smaller window shows the numbers of the note’s value in a circle, but only when viewed against a single-point light source. A traditional security feature, fine-line printing, is said by the Bank to be sharper on the polymer substrate than on paper, and indeed the visual images are very sharp. The printing includes raised lettering, numbers and Braille symbols.

Security image on Canadian $100 plastic bank note

Visible only with a single-point light source

Yet, while it’s great to be a step ahead of the counterfeiters with flashy, durable currency, the

solution also has to be cost-efficient. The initial cost of the Polymer Series notes is about double that of paper alternatives, but since the Polymer Series notes should last at least 2.5 times longer (conservatively) in the Canadian environment than paper notes, there should save at least $200 million, or more than 25 percent of total production costs, during the assumed eight-year life of the series, compared with a similar level of counterfeiting deterrent on paper.

Attentive to environmental issues, the Bank commissioned a life-cycle study of bank notes in Canada that started with growing cotton for paper and making raw material for the polymer, and reached to the disposing of shredded worn bank notes, which will be recycled. Contributions to air and water pollution, climate change, ozone depletion and more were evaluated. The study showed that the Polymer notes, being lighter than paper, use less fuel to transport, important in a country as large as Canada. For every factor considered – energy for raw materials, processing resources, printing, and distribution – the polymer notes had the advantage over paper, in most cases by more than 30 percent.

The substrate for the new notes is Guardian biaxially-oriented polypropylene (BOPP) from Securency International of Australia, which has been used in the currencies of 32 countries since it first was adopted by the Reserve Bank of Australia in 1988. The printing process must be seen, and there is an excellent schematic of it on the Globe and Mail website. The just-introduced $100 Polymer note will be followed soon by the $50 bill, with the big change coming in late 2012 when the $20 note, is used in ATMs and being over half of all Canadian notes in circulation, is introduced. The Polymer Series – a fine title – will be complete when the $10 and $5 are issued in 2013.

Do you think anyone tried designing a transparent window into a paper bill? Sorry, couldn’t resist that one.

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