The Bank of England has announced its decision to join many other nations and adopt polymer bank notes following the completion of its UK wide consultation process. This is great news: polymer supply, machinery investments, employment, skills and training are all set to reap the benefits in the plastics industry.
But as with all innovations that impact the public at large, it may just come with a price. Just as the reported side-effects of BPA have been held in reserve for slow news days in the national press, polymer banknotes will, undoubtedly, hit the headlines in the run-up to the 2016 launch.
Once again, this will turn the spotlight onto the plastics sector itself, with the general public forming opinions based, in some cases, on questionable sources.
Whilst some surveys in the UK have demonstrated strong public support for the move, those in the industry have seen how quickly the tide of opinion can change.
Innovia Security, a division of the Innovia Group, has been selected to manufacture the polymer substrate destined to produce the new notes. Innovia says it has been identified as the preferred supplier because its ‘Guardian’ polymer substrate is “already well established, being used by over 20 other countries, including Canada.” Innovia announced that it intends to build a opacification plant at its Wigton site, which will require an investment of over £20 million.
The new opacification plant has been forecast to be fully operational in early 2016 and is destined to produce the polymer substrate required for the new Winston Churchill £5 note, which will be launched in 2016. The Jane Austen £10 note will follow around a year later. The investment will also “create 70 to 80 additional jobs” said Innovia Security.
David Beeby, CEO, Innovia Group said: “We are very proud to have been selected as the preferred supplier of the polymer substrate for the new £5 and £10 bank notes. This decision not only recognises the benefits that polymer notes have to offer but also Innovia’s expertise in this field.”
However, one firm (which also works in the plastics sector) has warned that the switch may create health and safety concerns. Symphony Environmental, a firm which supplies anti-microbial additives recently issued a press release which cites an initial report from the UK’s ‘The Independent’ newspaper, that “A study of the survival rates of microbes such as E.coli and the MRSA superbug, when placed on seven different currencies has found that they thrive best on money printed on the plastic banknotes earmarked to be introduced in Britain” (13 September 2013).
For Symphony of course, these findings could help to open up a potential market, and also bring new revenue streams to speciality additives suppliers in the UK and Europe.
Symphony’s CEO Michael Laurier said: “Some of these bacteria can be extremely dangerous and have proved resistant to antibiotics, so we need to deal with them before they get into our bodies. Following years of R&D, Symphony can now supply an anti-microbial and anti-fungal formulation called d2p, which can be added to most types of plastic, and it should be introduced as quickly as possible,” said Laurier. “not just for banknotes, but for bank cards, driving licences, bus passes, retail cards, shopping bags, computer keyboards, steering-wheels, telephones, door handles, and many other applications.
“d2p has been independently tested by recognised laboratories and is effective against over 50 dangerous organisms, including MRSA, E.Coli, salmonella, listeria, pseudomanas and aspergillus niger. These are germs which lurk everywhere, in hospitals, schools, homes and offices, as well as inside long-life shopping bags.”
On the other side of the coin, in a video posted on the Innovia Security website, Managing Director Philippe Etienne refers to a different piece of research: “There was a study in 2010 where researchers in 10 different countries around the world took banknotes out of circulation, and they then examined the bacterial loading on those banknotes. They compared paper banknotes with polymer banknotes. That study showed conclusively that there was a dramatically lower loading of bacteria on polymer notes versus paper.
“Intuitively I think that’s what you’d expect when you compare a smooth, non-porous material with a porous material.”
Andreas Voss, Professor of Infection Control at Radboud University Nijmegen Medical Centre in the Netherlands was a co-author of the first study (mentioned in The Independent) and suggests that the findings are not necessarily evidence that polymer banknotes would provide a major source of transmission. Quoted on the webmd.boots.com website, Voss says: “I don't believe in them [polymer banknotes] being a major source of transmission. In addition, all other objects around us are ‘contaminated’.
Though this rationale may align with some opinions in the plastics sector, the reality is that physical money is the ultimate consumer commodity. If the mainstream media want to find an angle to decry the benefits of polymer substrates, they certainly will. Before 2016, the plastics sector needs to be prepared for that prospect — thought-leaders, suppliers and processors could all be challenged with yet more negative publicity.
Anti-microbial technologies may offer a solution. Others in the industry may argue they are unnecessary — no doubt further studies in coming years will provide more knowledge on this.
The good news is that other countries have managed to successfully ride the storm — indeed for many years — and have embraced polymer money with open arms. Posting on the UK’s ‘The Guardian’ website, business blogger Bridie Jabour writes a short but celebratory piece entitled “Plastic pound notes: a message from the enlightened future…Australia”. It’s an encouraging read.