Paper Money

Bank of England to study possible changes to polymer

England’s polymer £5 note continues to make news, most of it controversial. Now there is something not kosher about it, too.

Image courtesy of Bank of England.

The first reports that the new English polymer £5 note contains traces of animal by-products in the form of tallow were met, in some quarters, by disbelief and mockery. But the Bank of England took it seriously enough to conduct a study of the concerns held by various groups. On Feb. 15 it released a statement outlining its future plans concerning the £5 note, as well as the yet-to-be-issued Jane Austen £10 note and the J.M.W. Turner £20 bank note, which is due by 2020.

Notwithstanding the uproar, in the interim, the £5 note, printed at a cost of £46 million, will not be withdrawn from circulation and the £10, of which 275 million have already been printed at a cost of £24 million, will be issued as planned. The reasons cited were the reduced risk of counterfeits with polymer, ensuring the continuity of supply of bank notes to the public, value for money, the impact on United Kingdom business, and environmental consequences.

The bank is in discussions with polymer suppliers to determine what replacements are available. It is seeking further opinions on the use of animal- and plant-based products before it makes any decisions on the composition of the polymer substrate to be used in future production, so it has delayed issuing contracts for the £20.

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The bank is also taking a step to involve the public in the ongoing process, as it did when choosing designs. Beginning on March 30 it will invite outside views on the future content of its polymer. It says its will take these views into consideration when making a decision based on these criteria: (1) the polymer bank note production process; (2) the importance of counterfeit deterrence; (3) the viability of plant based alternatives as opposed to animal by-products; and (4) the cost.

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This summer it will publish a summary of the responses and its conclusion as to the future composition of its bank notes.

The full text of the bank’s statement is here

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