Canadians have really taken to plastic money. Last year, Canada introduced $100 bills made out of plastic. At the beginning of this week, the country added on plastic $50 bills. The $20 bill will be introduced later this year, and the $10 and $5 bills will make their debuts by the end of 2013, according to the Bank of Canada press release.
An article by science writer Neil Savage that appeared in the MIT Technology Review on Friday, March 23, discusses the benefits of money made out of plastic. The bills are stiffer and more durable, but most importantly, harder to counterfeit and easier to verify for authenticity. Canada has been struggling to thwart productive counterfeiters. In 2004, for every million banknotes in circulation, Canadian authorities were finding 470 fake ones.
An Australian company called Securency International produces the polymer substrate used to make the bills. According to Savage’s article:
The substrate consists of layers of biaxially oriented polypropylene — a plastic commonly used for packaging snacks or bagging lettuce. Securency can supply the plastic with a base of printed colors, as well as some security features. Rolls of the material are then shipped to individual countries, where printers can add additional features determined by the country’s central bank.
The company’s website touts the benefits of polymer money, which apparently include public health. Securency claims that its substrate, called Guardian, is neither porous nor fibrous so:
… [It] is impervious to moisture from humidity, body oil, greasy substances, liquids and other solvents. Thus, the introduction of polymer-based Guardian® substrate to banknote circulation has immediate public health benefits in significantly reducing bacterial transmission.
Even countries sticking to paper-based banknotes are incorporating elements of polymer. The U.S. Federal Reserve is expected to roll out a new version of the US $100 banknote which, Savage says:
…[W]ill contain a thin strip made of about 850,000 polymer microlenses. When the bill is tilted, the lenses will reveal one of two images printed beneath: the Liberty Bell or the number 100.
But beyond those $100 bills, Savage reports that the U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing will stick with paper and metal substrates for making U.S. currency. According to one of Savage’s sources, Stane Straus, a polymer-banknote collector who consults for countries and companies using plastic money, the U.S. government wants to be absolutely sure that there are no issues with the polymer technology for printing money before making the switch.
You can watch a webcast of the issue ceremony for the new Canadian $50 polymer banknote here.
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.