The Washington Post Called and We Answered

Some days we show up to Polymer Solutions and know exactly what we can expect. However, most of our days are far from mundane. Usually, we are rapidly responding to the ever changing needs of our clients, striving to deliver prompt answers to their real-world materials problems. Other days, we are responding to unexpected and exciting inquiries, which is exactly what happened today.

We were contacted byThe Washington Post to contribute to a very contentious issue that is being discussed and debated as we speak. Back in September the Bank of England unveiled new currency made from plastic. This bank note was touted as more durable, waterproof, and more difficult to counterfeit—all great benefits. However, at the end of November it was discovered that trace amounts of tallow are included in the plastic bank notes, which has caused uproar.

Tallow is rendered fat from animal sources. It is used in every day commodities like candles and soap products. However, it is also now found in the new bank notes. The uproar is because vegans, animal rights activists, and individuals that choose to only use animal-free products are forced to use this currency. The uproar over social media has been significant.

Our Lab Manager and Expert, Alan Sentman, Ph.D., spoke with Washington Post reporter, Abha Bhattaria to answer her questions about this issue. He explained that tallow was most likely being used during the processing of the polymer pellets, which results in small amounts of tallow within the finished product. Typically a substance like tallow would be used as a lubricant during the production process. As polymer processors are turning the little tiny pieces of plastic into flat sheets there are lubricants used to keep the machines functioning properly.

The Bank of England openly acknowledged over Twitter that the bank note does contain trace amounts of tallow in the base substrate of the polymer notes. However, there were other questions left unanswered, which is why the Washington Post contacted our team.

There are non-animal sourced alternatives to tallow. One example most people are probably familiar with is vegetable shortening. Plant-based lubricants could certainly be incorporated into the processing of the bank note. However, it would likely require modifications to the processing of the polymer notes to account for the introduction of this new processing aid.

From a chemical standpoint, most analytical techniques would reveal the presence of animal-sourced lubricant very much the same as plant-sourced lubricants. The actual analysis would reveal  steric acid present in both samples. It would require transparency from the manufacturer about the materials used within the processing of their product. In this instance, the Bank of England was forthcoming and acknowledged the use of tallow.

The use of tallow in polymer bank notes has forced a confrontation between social issues and science. While the Polymer Solutions team will remain independent on this issue (because that’s what we are—an independent testing lab), we are appreciative of this opportunity to help shed light into the science and facts.

We welcome any respectful and productive comments on this topic! Please feel free to share your thoughts below.