Plastic Money

It's true: money doesn't grow on trees


By Graeme Rodden, Executive Editor, Pulp & Paper International magazine

OTTAWA, Jan. 3, 2012 (RISI) - Beginning in November 2011, another bastion of the Canadian pulp and paper industry fell by the wayside joining sulfite pulp and greenfield newsprint mills.

The Bank of Canada began issuing polymer banknotes, beginning with the $100 bill. In March, the new $50 bill will be introduced. By late 2013, the last of the paper bills, $5, $10 and $20, will be phased out. The Bank phased out the $1 and $2 bills long ago in favor of the now famous metal "Loonie" ($1 coin) and "toonie" ($2 coin).


Now, "plastic" banknotes are not new. Quite a few countries, notably Australia, have had them for many years. In fact, according to the msn.com Money page, 32 other countries have already abandoned paper money. But there seems something ironic about Canada, a country very much identified with papermaking, to abandon paper in favor of polymer.


Although ironic, it may also be very apropos that the Bank of Canada would choose the International Year of Forests to opt for a non-paper banknote.

According to the Bank, the new notes are secure, more economical and "better for the environment".


You can even wash them


The bills are made from polymer biaxially oriented polypropylene. Although more expensive to manufacture, the bills last much longer and are more difficult to counterfeit. And if you happen to tip over while paddling your canoe, water will not disintegrate your hard-earned cash.

Could this also spell the end of "dirty money"? Of course, I just had to have one so as soon as the notes came out, I was at my bank to get a few. As others have noted, I found them very slippery and with virtually no weight. They do stick together but so does very new paper money.

We'll have to see what happens as the new bills age. I found the weight (or lack of) the most disconcerting aspect. I was afraid of losing the bill and not knowing it. Also on the minus side, those with experience with the plastic money in other countries say they were too slippery and still tended to stick together even after a few years' use.


But as the Canadian forest products industry moves to more value-added, innovative products (the first commercial nano-crystalline cellulose, NCC, plant has just opened in Quebec), these new banknotes are also claimed to be in the forefront of technology. According to an official with the Bank of Canada, the notes were developed by a team of physicists, chemists, engineers and other bank note experts. 

The same but different As it did before, the $100 bill (see specimen) has a portrait of Robert Borden, Prime Minister of Canada from 1911 to 1920. The new notes are made from a single piece of polymer and have transparent windows in them with metallic portraits of Borden and a building that can be seen from either side of the note. Raised ink on parts of the bill is another anti-counterfeiting measure. The rest of the denominations will have the same security features when they are released.


How will this go over with the public? It's too early to say now as $100 bills are not the most popular form of currency in Canada. We'll have to wait until 2013 when the lesser denominations come into circulation to find out what the reaction will be.

I guess we'll know it's really the end for the paper banknote when Hasbro, the makers of Monopoly, switch to plastic.