Plastic £5 note

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Is an expensive time is on the cards for UK retailers and banks with the advent of the new £5 plastic banknote?

Britain is finally to get the much debated plastic bank note. With an investment of around £200m needed to change cash machines, self- service checkouts and other equipment retailers and banks don’t have a huge amount of time to get their ducks in a row either as the new, Churchill-faced bank note is entering circulation on September 13th this year. After its introduction in September, we can look forward to more plastic notes joining the family.


The £10 note will be issued in 2017 and the £20 note by 2020. There are currently no plans to introduce a plastic £50 note. The new note – which is claimed to be virtually indestructible - will be made of a polymer plastic and is thin, flexible, and durable and will stay cleaner and tidier than paper notes.  Therefore they will last for around five years compared with a far shorter span for the traditional cotton paper banknotes we currently have. They are also far more difficult to counterfeit so all is good so far. However, the Bank of England does say that the notes may well be harder to count as they may stick together. The big question is do we need bigger wallets to cope now...

The new note is a first for the UK – and represents a £70m investment however this is not a new phenomenon.  Scotland already uses plastic bank notes and they also have been used in Northern Ireland. But did you know that they were first issued as currency in Australia in 1988 and by 1996 they switched completely to polymer banknotes. You can read about the history of the polymer banknote here.

Environmental impact

The Bank of England has written a report on the notes and the viability of implementing plastic bank notes which is interesting to read.  According to the Bank, they are recyclable, as are the current paper notes which end their life in shredding, compacting and eventually becoming agricultural compost – so it’s true to say ‘where there’s muck, there’s brass…’ 

At Key2 Group we are always very aware about the issue of recycling and that many people wonder what we do with acrylics and other plastic materials at the end of their lives.  Are they recyclable?  Well, the answer is yes. Although it’s not an easy process it is possible.  We use a specialist environmental contractor who recycles our off-cuts and other materials that are not required.  They then go to a grading plant where they are turned into a number of useful objects.  These include acrylic paints, key ring manufacture, granules for injection moulding, and other manufacturing materials.

However the future is a little vaguer for the new plastic notes. Australia turns theirs into plant pots and, apparently ours could be ‘sent to an energy recovery facility’ or mechanically turned ‘into other useful objects that may provide additional environmental benefits depending on the UK market for such materials.’  (Yep, I didn’t really understand that one either…)  So what actually happens to the plastic notes at their natural end of life is currently anyone’s guess.

The Australians have a more definite policy, but they have had more practice. The Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) says: ‘In order to recycle old polymer banknotes, they are first shredded into small confetti-like pieces. The shredded banknotes are then passed through a special machine that melts them and makes them into pellets, which are then ready to be used as the raw material for recycling into other products.”

Still no definite answer to what ‘other products’ are though, but the good news is that you can safely leave a new plastic fiver in the pocket of your jeans and not have to worry when it goes through a 40 degree wash and spin cycle. It will be good as new.