Thursday, November 22, 2012

What is Polymer Money?

Is there plastic money in your wallet? And I don't mean credit and debit cards.  Depending on where you live, polymer banknotes might be common, or they may still sound like something from the future.  Perhaps the near future.
Australia introduced its first polymer banknote in 1988, and made the transition to all plastic money by 1996.  Polymerization means linking together simple molecules to form a more complex molecule.  This is usually done because the new molecule has different physical properties that are desirable in a material.  For banknotes, polymer money is made because it is durable and hard to counterfeit.
The longer a banknote lasts and can stay in circulation, then the fewer banknotes a government has to print, thereby saving money for the tax payers.  For example, in Australia a paper $5 bill lasts about six months, whereas a polymer $5 bill lasts around 40 months.  The polymer money can also survive a trip through the washing machine, and when it does break down, it can be recycled.
Canada began the switch to polymer money in 2011 with their $100s and $50s.  According to an article in the Huffington Post, the money feels "smooth and slightly waxy. They don't crumple easily, but they do crease when you try, and they don't seem to tear in half." So far 15 countries have changed to polymer banknotes.
Most news stories mention the security benefits of polymer money, like the clear window you can see through on each bill.  While anything that can be made can be copied, it may take counterfeiters a while to duplicate the complexities of polymer money.  However, I think there may be another benefit that hasn't been examined.
If polymer money encourages people to go back to using cash, this will reduce a lot of the current cybercrimes.  Criminals can copy credit and debit cards in a variety of ways, and even hack into bank accounts, but to get your cash they have to attack you or break into your home.  Both of these are high-risk crimes, with the possibility of low rewards.  It's a lot safer for a criminal to steal a credit card number online.
So this high-tech money may help remind us of why we used cash in the first place.
(This is an article on the Australian polymer money.  Here's the Huffington Post article on Canadian money.  And this site has a list of countries that use polymer money.  The picture is from: starta new life in australia.)

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