Paper Money

Private report by UK firm criticizes polymer bank notes

According to a recent study, the carbon footprint for a polymer-based note like this Bank of England £5 note is larger than that for a traditional paper note of the same denomination.

Original images courtesy of Bank of England.

New research indicates that polymer bank notes may not be the greatest thing to happen to paper money after all. An English direct short term and payday lender going by the name of Moneyboat, for unexplained reasons decided to investigate whether polymer or paper currency was better for the environment. And for good measure, it added two other payment systems, banks cards and mobile phones, to the mix. It cited five sources in its findings.

When the Bank of England switched to polymer, in addition to claims that the plastic material would be more dirt resistant, allow for better security, and be less prone to damage from water and mishandling, it also said that added durability would make them more environmentally friendly, with a 16 percent lower carbon footprint for the £5, and 8 percent for the £10. Maybe not.

Moneyboat says that £5 and £10 polymer notes are almost three times worse for the environment than paper despite lasting 2.5 times longer, and based on this criterion alone have higher carbon footprints. The new study claims that the Bank of England did not take into account an important factor — the average number of times a bank note is used each year. When this data is taken into consideration, the study claims the carbon dioxide equivalent (a standard unit for measuring carbon footprints, or CO2e) for a £5 note is 4.97 kilograms for polymer compared to 1.8 kilograms for paper, and 8.77 kilograms versus 2.92 kilograms for the £10 note.

Both currencies pale in comparison to cards and phones when it comes to environmental harm, the study claims. A bank card has a three-year life expectancy and a CO2e of 20.8 kilograms. If a chip is on the card, the figure goes up to 40 kilograms. But that is nothing compared to a 64GB iPhone XS. Apple’s Environmental Responsibility report give the phone a CO2e of 70 kilograms over a two-year life, with 77 percent of that traced to manufacturing and 17 percent to product use.

The disposal CO2e statistics for the two types of notes are nearly the same even though paper ones are composted while polymer is mechanically recycled.

The full study can be found here

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