The world’s first polymer banknote was issued in Australia in January 1988 to mark the Australian Bicentenary. That year in wallets around Australia tucked in amongst the paper banknotes was a plastic one. It wasn’t long before people tested out the ultimate waterproof test of banknotes in washing machines across the country. The plastic notes survived.
The CSIRO and the Reserve Bank of Australia developed polymer money and by 1996, Australia’s paper banknotes had been replaced by the new ploymer notes. These days it is now strange to see a paper banknote in wallets.
The plastic used to create Australia’s plastic money is a non-porous polymer with a protective coating to help the notes stay cleaner for longer and so they don’t absorb moisture. The notes are also recyclable so when they wear due to use, they get taken out of circulation and recycled and made into other plastic products like compost bins and plumbing fittings. The structure of the polymer allows ink to be applied to the surface using existing printing methods.
The security features of paper notes include metallic fibres, watermarks and particular ink blends. One of the security measures of the Australian banknote is the clear window in the lower corner of the note which has proved difficult for counterfeiters to reproduce. In addition to this there is a combination of raised and flat inks incorporated into the design and the watermark is now a shadow image. A shadow image is made by changing the opacity of the polymer substrate. This can be seen by holding the note up to the light and what should be seen is the Australian coat of arms.
The non-porous polymer has a specially developed protective coating so the notes stay cleaner and don’t absorb moisture. They last on average 4-5 times longer in circulation, with the plastic $5 note lasting for around 40 months, compared to 6 months for the paper $5. After it does wear out, polymer money is recycled into plastic products such as compost bins and plumbing fittings.
Today a number of countries around the world use this non-porous polymer as their choice of material for their banknotes including: