Canada Introduces Polymer Money

Canada has joined a number of other countries in making its banknotes out of a polymer instead of paper. Bank of Canada announced new banknotes last month. The banknotes will be gradually put into circulation by the end of 2013. The bank has made the move to make the banknotes more difficult to counterfeit.

As Terry Davidson of the Toronto Sun explains:

The issue of the new bills will mark the first time Canadian money has been made out of something other than paper-based material.

‘This will help maintain Canadian’s confidence in their currency,’ said Manuel Perreira, of the Bank of Canada’s Ontario office. ‘We are confident the notes … will (play an important part) in fighting counterfeiting.’

From the various articles in the Toronto Sun and NPR, it wasn’t immediately obvious what the polymer was for these banknotes. But some digging around in a report [PDF] about the lifecycle assessments of paper and polymer banknotes by Bank of Canada shows that the polymer is polyethylene terephthalate (PET).

The PET-based money is more durable and lasts up to four times longer than the paper bills currently in use. It is also much harder to copy; cleaner because it’s less absorbent; and doesn’t fray or curl at the corners. Because it holds its shape nicely, it causes about 40% fewer jams in ATMs and bill-counting devices. The environment benefits too from the polymer money because treasuries and banks will have to print money less frequently and the polymer notes can be recycled into other products when their time is up.

Michael Posner at The Globe and Mail put together a cool factsheet about the use of polymers in money. The first polymer banknotes were made in the 1980s to be tested in Costa Rica and Haiti (one wonders why these countries were chosen first).

According to the article:

The man credited with inventing the first fully commercial plastic banknote is David Solomon [link is ours], professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at the University of Melbourne. Commissioned by Australia’s Reserve Bank after a wave of forgeries in the early 1960s, Dr. Solomon spent 21 years developing the polymer-based product. For his work, he later won the prestigious $50,000 Victoria Prize. Australia’s first polymer banknotes were issued, made from a transparent, thermoplastic polymer that is non-fibrous and non-porous.

Posner notes that Canada is a latecomer to the polymer game. About 30 countries use a form of polymer money, including Australia, New Zealand, Indonesia, Malaysia, Brunei, Singapore, Chile, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Kuwait, Mexico, and Romania.

But Eyder Peralta of NPR had the last and funniest thought about the new money: “Alas, we haven’t found any word on how well the bills would survive a wash-and-dry cycle.”

Source: “Canada Introduces New, Plastic Cash,” NPR, 06/21/11
Source: “New and improved Canadian cash,” Toronto Sun, 06/20/11
Source: “Quick facts: Synthetic money,” The Globe and Mail,  06/20/11
Source: “Bank of Canada collection of new polymer Canadian notes,” YouTube

Rajendrani "Raj" Mukhopadhyay is a science writer and editor who contributes news stories and feature articles on scientific advances to a variety of magazines. Raj holds Ph.D. in biophysics from Johns Hopkins University.