Why are new banknotes made of polymer?

Our new banknotes are made of polymer because it is cleaner, safer and stronger than paper.
This page was last updated on 23 January 2020
As the demand for cash continues, so does the need for banknotes that are high quality, long-lasting and difficult to forge. The new polymer notes last at least two-and-a-half times as long as their paper equivalents and they’re safer and cleaner, too.

When did the Bank of England start printing banknotes?

We’ve been printing banknotes for over 300 years, although the way we do it has changed a lot over that time.

For instance, when we started out in the 1690s, we did not issue any notes worth less than £50. Since incomes were typically lower than £20 a year, most people went through life without ever touching a banknote.

During the 18th century, notes of a smaller value were introduced. Since the mid-1980s there have been four denominations of banknotes in circulation: £5, £10, £20 and £50.

Why do we sometimes issue new design banknotes?

Confidence in our banknotes is important to keep the economy working. Although cash use is in decline, we expect it to remain a critical way for people to pay in the foreseeable future. In the UK there are currently over £70 billion worth of banknotes in circulation. So we need to make sure the notes we produce are high quality, long-lasting and difficult to counterfeit. To achieve this we change the design of our notes from time to time.

The latest development is to print new notes on polymer – a thin, flexible plastic. We released the new £5 note in September 2016 and the new £10 note a year later. The new polymer £20 note will enter circulation in 2020. In October 2018 we announced that a polymer £50 note will be issued after the polymer £20 note.

Why are new banknotes made of polymer?

The new polymer notes allow for enhanced security features, such as the see-through window and holograms. This makes them harder to counterfeit than paper notes.

They’re stronger, too: a polymer fiver is expected to last two-and-a-half times longer than the old paper £5 note. Although, while our notes are stronger, they are not indestructible – so you should still take care of them.

The life expectancy of polymer notes also makes them more environmentally friendly. The Carbon Trust has certified that the carbon footprint of a polymer fiver is 16% lower than its paper predecessor.

Finally, polymer notes are cleaner since their smoother surfaces are resistant to dirt and moisture.

Production of the new £10 note
Our explainer 'How much is a banknote worth?' takes a closer look at the serial numbers on banknotes. Other guides explore cash and bank deposits as the two main forms of money in the economy and the link between money and trust.

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