Can plastic banknotes really be greener than paper notes? The answer is yes – and by a long way. The fact is that ‘paper’ notes are actually generally made from cotton that requires a lot of energy to produce and to keep in circulation. In addition, cotton uses a huge amount of water in its production cycle. Even worse, at the end of their useful life paper notes are typically put into landfill or burnt for energy, while the polymer used for plastic banknote notes can be recycled. These are the main reasons why plastic beats paper when it comes to environmental responsibility:

Greener to use
Research carried out inn 2018 for the Bank of Mexico found that the production and distribution of polymer banknotes resulted in a 48.8% reduction in greenhouse gases [1] , compared to paper banknotes.

Longer life
Because plastic banknotes last around 4 times longer than paper notes, waste is reduced to a bare minimum. For higher denomination notes, the life cycle can be more than 6 times longer than paper. These figures are common to many tests carried out by national banks around the world. The Reserve Bank of Australia, for instance, found that while 5$ and $10 paper notes had lifespans of a year or less [2], the polymer versions have increased their lifespan over time from 3 to nearly 8 years.

The polymer in plastic banknotes can be recycled as a wide range of other items. The Reserve Bank of Australia lists[3] building components, plumbing fittings, compost bins and other household and industrial products amongst the items that can be made from recycled notes. This is one reason why polymer notes have less impact on the environment. Paper notes are resource-intensive and are difficult to recycle, often being incinerated.


[1] CCL Secure, Specimen Magazine, Mexico, [online], Available at: (Link to Specimen Issue 10 to go here), Pg.20
[2] Reserve Bank of Australia, 12th December 2019, A Cost-Benefit Analysis of Polymer Banknotes, [online], Available at: https://www.rba.gov.au/publications/bulletin/2019/dec/a-cost-benefit-analysis-of-polymer-banknotes.html
[3] Reserve Bank of Australia, 2020, Recycling, [online], Available at: https://banknotes.rba.gov.au/production-and-distribution/recycling/

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