Canada is trading in its paper currency for plastic. No, not credit cards, actual plastic money.
Sometime late in 2011, the Bank of Canada replaced the nation's traditional cotton-and-paper bank notes with currency made from a synthetic polymer. Canada purchases its plastic money from a company in Australia, one of nearly two dozen countries where a plastic currency is already in circulation.
New Imagery for New Currency
The first polymer-made currency released was the $100 bill, released in 2011 and adorned by the 8th Prime Minister Sir Robert Borden.The new $50 and $20 bills followed in 2012, the latter featuring Queen Elizabeth II. The $10 and $5 bills were released in 2013.
Beyond the figurehead, the bills feature a number of interesting design elements. These include an astronaut, the research icebreaker ship CCGS Amundsen, and the word Arctic spelled out in Inuktitut, an indigenous language. Scientific research and innovation are especially well represented on the $100 bill, with depictions of a researcher sitting at a microscope, a vial of insulin, a DNA strand, and an electrocardiogram printout, commemorating the invention of the pacemaker.
Practical Benefits of Plastic Currency
Plastic money lasts anywhere from two to five times longer than paper money and performs better in vending machines. And, unlike paper currency, plastic money doesn't shed tiny bits of ink and dust that can disable ATMs by confusing their optical readers.
Polymer bills are much more complicated to counterfeit. They include a number of security features including difficult-to-copy transparent windows, hidden numbers, metallic holograms, and text printed in a minuscule font.
Plastic money also stays cleaner and becomes less grubby than paper money, because the non-porous surface doesn't absorb perspiration, body oils, or liquids. In fact, the plastic money is virtually waterproof, so the bills won't be ruined if they are left in a pocket by mistake and end up in the washing machine. Actually, plastic money can take a lot of abuse. You can bend and twist plastic currency without damaging it.
The new plastic money is also less likely to spread disease because it's harder for bacteria to cling to the slick, non-absorbent surface.
Canada will also pay less for its new plastic money. While the plastic bank notes cost more to print than their paper equivalents, their longer life means Canada will end up printing far fewer bills and save a substantial amount of, well, money in the long run.
All in all, it looks like plastic money is good for the government and good for consumers. Even the environment could end up cashing in on the trend toward plastic currency. It turns out plastic money can be recycled and used to manufacture other plastic products such as compost bins and plumbing fixtures.
A life-cycle assessment commissioned by the Bank of Canada determined that over their entire life cycle, the polymer bills are responsible for 32% fewer greenhouse gas emissions, and 30% reduction in energy need.
Yet, the benefits of recycling are not exclusive to plastic money. For the past several years, various companies have been recycling worn-out paper currency and using the recycled material in products ranging from pencils and coffee mugs to, ironically and appropriately, piggy banks.