Paper money today is changing—and it’s changing fast. Close to home, recent developments have included the announcement of redesigns for the U.S. Federal Reserve Notes of the $5, $10, and $20 denominations to include women on our money for the first time in more than 100 years. Further abroad, some countries are attempting to do away with cash entirely, such as Sweden and parts of Europe that are accepting 100% digitalization and mobile banking.
Now the Bank of England is adding to the paper-free advancements by announcing a new plastic £5 polymer note to be released in September. The headline on the Mirror.co.uk news-site asks “Is this the end of paper money?”, and while this perhaps reads a little dramatically, they may not be wrong. The new plastic note is “designed to last for about five years and will be followed by plastic £10 and £20 notes by 2020.”
The first new notes in England will be released at the same time as the first new notes of the same denominations in the United States.
The idea is to save on the wear and tear that paper money goes through, as the new polymer notes will last twice as long as their cotton counterparts, saving the Bank of England “about £100m over 10 years.” It is claimed that they will be “impossible to tear, can go through the wash and even survive having a glass of wine poured on them.”
For anyone who has left a dollar bill in their pocket before laundry day, this is welcome news. Of course, the Bank of England follows up this claim by stating, “we’re not encouraging people to do that. We didn’t design them to go into washing machines: it is a fortunate by-product that they are more resilient [when washed].”
The plastic notes will be smaller, stronger, and hopefully harder for counterfeiters and fraudsters to copy.
Of course the announcement has caused some controversy. In a global community that pushes the need to be “green,” there is some concern from the public that the plastics will be environmentally unfriendly. However, the United Kingdom will not be the first to embrace plastic notes, as Australian notes are already made of a similar polymer.
The new £5 note will feature Winston Churchill, voted “the greatest ever Briton,” who was chosen in a 2002 BBC poll similar to the recent polls the U.S. Federal Reserve conducted to choose the woman to be represented on U.S. money. And while Churchill will be replacing Elizabeth Fry, who was integral in 19th-century prison reform, the £10 will restore the representation of women by featuring Jane Austen. This announcement was made after thousands signed a petition protesting the removal of Fry, claiming that, as a result, “apart from the Queen, there would be no female faces on the UK’s notes.”
Caitlyn Trautwein is Senior Associate Editor at Whitman Publishing.