Not worth the paper it’s written on: why the Bank wants to put all of its notes on plastic

Under plans to save money, smaller, more durable polymer cash will end 300 years of traditional currency

Personal Finance Editor

The problem of soggy bank notes ruining your laundry after going through the wash cycle could soon come to an end if the Bank of England gets its way. It plans to scrap more than 300 years of history by replacing today's “tatty” paper bank notes with more durable – and smaller – polymer ones.

It’s not out of concern for the nation’s washing that it plans to act: more prosaically, it is proposing the switch to save cash. The move will save the Bank a healthy £100m in a decade.

It will also cut down on fraud, the Bank claims, as plastic cash is harder to counterfeit. And there will be less need to launder money – in the literal sense of the phrase – as polymer notes are more resistant to dirt and moisture and so stay cleaner for longer than paper notes.

The cash saving will come from the fact that the plastic notes will last two-and-a-half times as long as the existing paper ones, which means they are cheaper to produce as they don’t need to be replaced as often.

But while they will survive a washing cycle, or being immersed in red wine, they can be damaged by ironing, as they begin to shrink and melt at temperatures above 120 degrees.

The Bank is also trumpeting about the environmental advantages of longer-lasting notes and the fact that polymer ones can be recycled easily for other plastic items, such as plant pots. But Charlie Bean, deputy governor for monetary policy at the Bank of England, said that any switch would only be made if people wanted it. “Our objective is to supply good-quality, genuine banknotes that command the people’s trust,” he said.

As such, the proposals are currently “under consultation” until 15 November. If there is major public objection, then it says it will back down.

If the plans are accepted the new notes could be with us by 2016, in time to coincide with the new Winston Churchill fivers and Jane Austen tenners. People who have used plastic notes speak favourably of them. Writer Emma Lunn used them on holiday in Australia this year and is a fan. “They’re waterproof which meant you could take money to the beach and keep it in your shorts while swimming,” she said. “In the UK, I suspect they’re more likely to be useful in the rain or if you accidentally put cash through the washing machine.” She added: “They are very hard to rip or tear.” However if they are torn they can then tear easily.

What do the plastic notes feel like? Polymer bank notes are made from a transparent plastic film which is coated with an ink layer which carries design features to make them look similar to the notes we already use.

However, they feel much more slippery to the touch than good old paper ones, and while they are bendy they are not so easy to fold. Meanwhile, keeping a wad in your pocket can lead to them slipping and sliding to the floor when you take them out, according to one visitor to Australia.

The notes will be smaller than before, as well as including a new highly-visible watermark of Britannia, which will mean they will look markedly different to our current notes.

The polymer currency is planned to be around 15 per cent smaller than our current fivers and tenners which sounds like another money-saving idea, but the Bank says the move will make the notes easier to store in wallets and purses.

The experience in other countries has largely been positive. The Reserve Bank of Australia was the first to print a polymer note in 1988 and the country went fully plastic in 1996. Since then 20 countries have followed, including Brunei, Papua New Guinea and Romania.

Canada made the switch while Mark Carney, the Governor of the Bank of England was in charge of its national bank, so it seemed logical he would push through a similar switch here soon after taking control this year. However the Bank says the proposals follow a three year study, which included consulting other countries that have switched to polymer.

Pound for pound: Footnotes

* There are 770 million UK bank notes in circulation.

* The paper is made by a specialist, using cotton fibre and linen rag.

* The watermark design is engraved in wax.

* The Bank of England has issued bank notes since it was founded in 1694.

* All notes are produced by De La Rue Currency in Loughton, Essex.

* The most common note is the £20, followed by the £10.

The oldest known banknote, issued by Bank of England in 1699 (Getty) The oldest known banknote, issued by Bank of England in 1699 (Getty)  

Arts and Entertainment
books
News
Dr Alice Roberts in front of a
people
Voices
Nigel Farage arrives for a hustings event at The Oddfellows Hall in Ramsgate on Tuesday
voicesA defection that shows who has the most to fear from the rise of Ukip
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and the Dalek meet
tvReview: Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Sport
Diego Costa
footballEverton 3 Chelsea 6: Diego Costa double has manager purring
Arts and Entertainment
The 'three chords and the truth gal' performing at the Cornbury Music Festival, Oxford, earlier this summer
music... so how did she become country music's hottest new star?
Life and Style
The spy mistress-general: A lecturer in nutritional therapy in her modern life, Heather Rosa favours a Byzantine look topped off with a squid and a schooner
fashionEurope's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln
Voices
Caustic she may be, but Joan Rivers is a feminist hero, whether she likes it or not
voicesShe's an inspiration, whether she likes it or not, says Ellen E Jones
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Star turns: Montacute House
tv
News
i100Steve Carell selling chicken, Tina Fey selling saving accounts and Steve Colbert selling, um...
Arts and Entertainment
Unsettling perspective: Iraq gave Turner a subject and a voice (stock photo)
booksBrian Turner's new book goes back to the bloody battles he fought in Iraq
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Some of the key words and phrases to remember
booksA user's guide to weasel words
Life and Style
Brave step: A live collection from Alexander McQueen whose internet show crashed because of high demand
fashionAs the collections start, Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

IT Teacher

£22000 - £33000 per annum: Randstad Education Leeds: ICT TeacherLeedsRandstad ...

Graduate C#.NET Developer (TDD, ASP.NET, SQL)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Graduate C#.NET Developer (TDD, ASP.NET, SQL) Su...

Junior SQL DBA (SQL Server 2012, T-SQL, SSIS) London - Finance

£30000 - £33000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Junior SQL DBA...

C# Web Developer (ASP.NET, JavaScript, MVC-4, HTML5) London

£35000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Web Develop...

Day In a Page

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

Europe's biggest steampunk convention

Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor
She's dark, sarcastic, and bashes life in Nowheresville ... so how did Kacey Musgraves become country music's hottest new star?

Kacey Musgraves: Nashville's hottest new star

The singer has two Grammys for her first album under her belt and her celebrity fans include Willie Nelson, Ryan Adams and Katy Perry
American soldier-poet Brian Turner reveals the enduring turmoil that inspired his memoir

Soldier-poet Brian Turner on his new memoir

James Kidd meets the prize-winning writer, whose new memoir takes him back to the bloody battles he fought in Iraq
Aston Villa vs Hull match preview: Villa were not surprised that Ron Vlaar was a World Cup star

Villa were not surprised that Vlaar was a World Cup star

Andi Weimann reveals just how good his Dutch teammate really is
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef ekes out his holiday in Italy with divine, simple salads

Bill Granger's simple Italian salads

Our chef presents his own version of Italian dishes, taking in the flavours and produce that inspired him while he was in the country
The Last Word: Tumbleweed through deserted stands and suites at Wembley

The Last Word: Tumbleweed through deserted stands and suites at Wembley

If supporters begin to close bank accounts, switch broadband suppliers or shun satellite sales, their voices will be heard. It’s time for revolution