Victoria Cleland provides details on polymer banknotes

Victoria, first, can you tell us what you
mean by polymer banknotes?
So, polymer banknotes are used in over 20
different countries at the moment. Polymer
is a material, what we call a “substrate”,
that the notes are printed on and it starts
life as a very thin film. Then that’s opacified
by putting ink on it, usually a white ink,
and it’s using that ink that we can create
what we call the “windows”. So in a polymer
banknote, you’ll quite often see a clear space
with a window.
So that’s the clear film coming through and
this is the ink around it. So a polymer banknote
is just a banknote made on a different type
of substance to the cotton paper that people
are used to.
And what’s the advantage of having the clear
area, the window?
We see it as a very important security feature.
So there’s the window that you can actually
hold up and people can look through it. Also,
it’s a useful way of putting extra security
features on top of the window and they can
show through on to both sides. So it’s a good
anti counterfeit feature.
Can you give me a bit more detail about the
key properties of polymer and what it is that
makes it a good substrate for banknotes?
So one of the key things we look for in a
banknote is counterfeit resilience and with
polymer, you can put a lot of very sophisticated
security features on it. There’s the clear
window, which I showed you a little earlier,
where you can actually look through it. But,
also, with polymer, it’s a very strong substance
so it’s very durable. This means that it lasts
longer, which has benefits in terms of the
costs/benefits over its entire life. It also
means that it lasts a lot better in, sort
of, every day use.
So, for example, if a polymer note is accidently
put in the washing machine, it will stay in
a lot better condition than a paper one would.
Now, I’m not saying it’s completely indestructible,
but in terms of day-to-day wear and tear,
the polymer notes will last a lot longer.
So this is a traditional paper note that’s
been through the washing machine. As you can
see, it’s become very faded and the hologram
is incredibly difficult to use. The polymer
note, there are some slight creases in it
but no fading and the hologram is still working
very well. These two notes were put in the
same washing machine at the same time, and
that’s the difference.
I understand that the Bank’s conducting a
public consultation program about polymer
banknotes. What will people be able to see
if they com e and
find you at one of your regional events?
One of the things that we’re really keen to
do is to show people actual polymer notes.
It’s very difficult to explain, even on broadcasts
like this, what exactly a polymer note feels
like. So we’ve actually made some Bank of
England notes in polymer using the current
For example, I’ve got one here with Elizabeth
Fry on. So the design stayed the same but
it’s on polymer so it will give people a chance
to feel the notes. They’ll be able to see
the windows but without being distracted by
different pictures or characters and things,
and they’ll begin to see that actually you
can have a polymer that looks very similar
to the current ones using historical characters.
So we’ll show people that we can also have
the raised print, which we know that people
say is an important feature. So it’s really
to help people understand what polymer notes
would feel like.
And I think one thing that surprises some
people is how flexible polymer is. They think:
Oh, plastic banknotes, are they going to be
thick? But, no, they’re actually very flexible,
easily fit into wallets and fold up.
And where might people have seen or heard
about polymer banknotes before?
So at the moment, there are over 20 different
countries that have polymer banknotes. I think
they’ve been in Australia since about 1988.
They were recently introduced in Canada, also
Singapore, Mexico, Romania. So quite a lot
of people either on work, travel, or holiday
might well have used polymer notes.
What about the environmental impact of polymer
banknotes? Is it different from paper?
We actually commissioned an independent study
to look at the environmental impacts. We know
that a lot of people are concerned about the
environment so we wanted to make sure that
even if we were going with something that
we thought was good in terms of counterfeit
resilience, cleanliness, durability, there
weren’t any adverse effects on the environment.
The independent study that looked at the whole,
sort of, life cycle assessment of polymer,
say, from the production right through to
destruction found that actually polymer banknotes
were more environmentally friendly than paper
in pretty much every stage of the process.

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