Polymer banknotes

In 2016 we started issuing banknotes made of a thin, flexible plastic material called polymer.

Why are we using polymer for banknotes?

Polymer banknotes are:

  • Cleaner: polymer banknotes are more resistant to dirt and moisture, so they stay cleaner for longer than paper banknotes.
  • Safer: the polymer material allows us to include enhanced security features, which make polymer banknotes harder to counterfeit. 
  • Stronger: improving the quality of banknotes in circulation.

Polymer banknotes last longer, so they are more environmentally friendly than paper banknotes. The waste from old polymer banknotes is turned into pellets before being transformed into new plastic items, such as plant pots.

So far, we have issued a polymer £5 note and a new polymer £10 note. The next £20 note will also be made of polymer. It will be issued on 20 February 2020.

We expect to issue a £50 polymer note by the end of 2021. This will feature the scientist Alan Turing.

Following discussion with suppliers, we have not identified any changes to the availability or cost of alternative polymer substrates which would alter the conclusion reached in August 2017 on the future composition of polymer banknotes.

Carbon footprint

Polymer banknotes are more environmentally friendly than paper due to their durability. The Carbon Trust has certified that over their full life cycle, the carbon footprint of a £5 polymer banknote is 16% lower than the £5 paper banknote, while the carbon footprint of a £10 polymer banknote is 8% lower than the £10 paper banknote. This certification was completed in accordance to the international standard PAS 2050, looking at the full life cycle of greenhouse gas emissions related to the banknotes, including from their production, use in circulation and final disposal.


Getting your business ready for polymer banknotes

As with any change in banknote design, all businesses that handle cash need to plan and prepare for polymer banknotes.

Adapting cash-handling machines

Cash-handling machines will need to be adapted for the new banknotes. This includes self-service checkouts, ATMs, ticket machines, and any other machine that weighs, counts, sorts, accepts, dispenses or recycles banknotes.

This will likely require a software update, which is normal practice when a new banknote design is issued.  Additional hardware upgrades may be required for some machines because of the change to a new material and the reduction in size of the banknotes.

If your business uses cash-handling machines, you should engage directly with the machine manufacturer to discuss what adaptations will be required. Before purchasing a new machine, you should ask if it is compatible with the new banknotes.

We have a list of machine manufacturers which have been offered access to test banknotes. If your manufacturer is not listed, please let us know at cashindustry.enquiries@bankofengland.co.uk

PDFList of manufacturers

Composition of polymer banknotes

We recognise the concerns raised about the discovery of traces of tallow used in the production of our polymer £5 notes. We were not aware of the presence of animal-derived products when we signed the contract with our supplier for the £5 and £10 banknote polymer. When we discovered the presence of these products, our first step was to alert the public. Subsequently, we have been taking the concerns raised by members of the public with the utmost seriousness.

On 30 November 2016, we made an initial statement.

In February 2017, we announced that the current polymer £5 note would remain in circulation and the new £10 note, due to be issued in September 2017, would be printed on the same polymer material. This was accompanied by an assessment of how we came to this decision.

We also announced that a full public consultation would be held from 30 March 2017 on the new polymer £20 and future print runs of polymer £5 and £10 notes. The public consultation ran from 30 March 2017 to 12 May 2017. This was accompanied by a consultation document and an independent report on the environmental impact of a range of additives from a consultancy firm, Efeca. We also undertook a programme of outreach meetings with representatives of potentially impacted groups.

On 10 August 2017, we announced that there would be no change to the composition of the polymer used for future notes. The new £20 note and future print runs of the polymer £5 and £10 will continue to be made from polymer manufactured using trace amounts, typically less than 0.05%, of chemicals ultimately derived from animal products.

Our decision reflected multiple considerations, including the concerns raised by the public, the availability of environmentally sustainable alternatives, positions of other central banks and value for money, as well as the widespread use of animal-derived additives in everyday products, including alternative payment methods. In reaching our decision, we also took account of our obligations under the Equality Act 2010. We also published a document providing more detail on the decision.

This page was last updated 23 October 2019
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