The decision to introduce polymer banknotes by the Bank of England would reduce the environmental impact of our currency, according to the results of a lifecycle assessment.
The Bank worked with PE International to look at the environmental impacts of its current paper banknotes and compared them with polymer banknotes.
And polymer showed benefits over cotton paper for all the main phases of the lifecycle. In fact, for the majority (six out of seven) of the indicators covered by the study showed polymer banknotes have a lower environmental impact than paper banknotes.
Currently, banknotes are composted at the end of their life cycle. However, for polymer banknotes, a variety of potential treatments are possible. In Australia, for example, polymer banknotes are recycled into plastic items, such as plant pots.
For the purpose of the PE International study it was assumed that future polymer banknotes would be sent to an energy recovery facility, although it was noted that “mechanical recycling of polymer banknotes into other useful objects may provide additional environmental beneﬁts depending on the UK market for such materials.”
The Bank of England is now considering the introduction of polymer for the recently announced new Sir Winston Churchill and Jane Austen notes. It will now consult the public before making any final decisions, to make sure that the proposed change will meet with broad public acceptance.
A final decision will be announced in December 2013.
You can read about the whole lifecycle assessment here.