What are the Benefits of Polymer Banknotes?

Date: 8/2/2022
Author(s): Central Bank Of Barbados

Created 02 Aug, 2022
Tags CBB Blog Polymer Banknotes
Categories General Press Release
Views: 858

Polymer banknotes have become increasingly popular, with many countries opting to move away from traditional cotton-based "paper" banknotes to ones printed on this plastic substrate. In April 2022, the Central Bank of Barbados announced that it would introduce a new series of polymer banknotes in December 2022. Here are some of the reasons why Barbados and many other countries have made the switch.

They Last Longer than Paper Banknotes

Unless there's a design change, the public usually doesn't realise that the money they're using today isn't necessarily the same one that was in circulation a year or even six months ago. That's because central banks and other issuing authorities are constantly removing damaged and worn banknotes from circulation and replacing them with new bills.

How long a particular note last depends on a number of factors, such as the denomination – $100 bills generally have a longer lifespan than $2 bills because they move from hand to hand less often – and the treatment they receive while in circulation.

Polymer banknotes are more durable than paper banknotes, typically lasting on average two to two and a half times as long.

Why? One of the main reasons paper banknotes get worn is because they absorb moisture, dirt, and grease, but the polymer substrate is non-porous, so banknotes made from it aren't affected by those things. In fact, if you spill something on a polymer banknote – like ketchup or a drink – you can just wipe it off.

They are Difficult to Counterfeit

A major concern for any issuing authority, and no doubt for the people using the money, is counterfeiting. For that reason, central banks and other monetary authorities spend a lot of time trying to design banknotes that are harder for fraudsters to replicate while still being easy for the public to authenticate. Polymer banknotes offer the ability to incorporate security features that fit that bill.

The polymer substrate is actually transparent; everything you see on the note, even the plain white areas, is printed on. Because the base material is transparent, banknote designers can leave certain areas of the note clear. In recent years, as technology has improved, banknote manufacturers have been able to incorporate additional elements into those clear areas to make them even more challenging for counterfeiters. The $20, $50, and $100 denominations of Barbados' 2022 banknote series all feature a hologram embedded within the see-through window at the bottom of the note.

Authenticating the note, then, can be as easy as looking through the transparent area of the note and moving the note around – tilting it – to see the image in it catch the light and change colour.

And it is important to check. Polymer banknotes are not impossible to counterfeit; what they are is harder to replicate convincingly, so you still need to do your part.

They Allow for Features for the Visually Impaired

For a sighted person, knowing the value of any banknote they have is quite easy – look at the colour or read the denomination – but for members of our community who are blind or visually impaired, it is often more of a challenge. This is something issuing authorities consider when designing their country's banknotes.

Since the Central Bank of Barbados started issuing currency back in 1973, we've made sure that each denomination has a unique colour, and for recent series – the 2013 and now 2022 – we've increased both the intensity of the colours and the contrast between denominations to make it easier for the partially sighted to differentiate between denominations.

These design choices aren't useful for the fully blind, however, so increasingly often, banknote designers also incorporate tactile symbols on the banknotes, with each denomination having its own symbol.

While this can be done on paper banknotes – the Central Bank of Barbados first tried it on our 2013 series – the dots, which were printed on the paper, become worn and less effective as the notes age. Tactile marks on polymer banknotes, however, are part of the substrate itself, and as such, should last as long as the banknote does.

They are More Environmentally Friendly than Paper Banknotes

At a time when there is a great deal of concern about plastic pollution, it might seem concerning that plastic money is becoming more popular. But polymer banknotes are actually better for the environment than paper banknotes.

First, there's the durability side of things. Because polymer banknotes have a longer lifespan than paper bills, they need to be replaced less often, so there are fewer notes to dispose of. And when they do need to be replaced, they can be recycled and turned into other products.

But even before that, the manufacturing process for polymer is more energy efficient.

After almost half a century of us using paper banknotes in Barbados, a new substrate will take some getting used to. But the numerous benefits of polymer, among them increased durability, stronger security, and greater accessibility undoubtedly make the transition worthwhile.

Barbados’ new polymer banknotes go into circulation on December 5, 2022.


Copyright 2022 by Central Bank of Barbados