/ Money

The Bank of England proposes plastic banknotes – yay or nay?

£10 banknote

Britain could soon go plastic with polymer banknotes replacing the paper money we’ve come to know and love. So, when it comes to plastic notes, are you in the for or against camp?

The Bank of England’s (BOE) consulting on whether to move to plastic money; binning the paper currency that the Bank has been handing out for the 300 years it’s been going.

Of course, our current notes aren’t just made from paper – they’re mainly formed from cotton and linen fibre. However, they do tend to get tatty quickly, with the average fiver apparently only lasting a year.

This is part of the reason why the BOE is proposing to turn Britain plastic – just like in 20 other countries including Canada and Australia. If the BOE gets the go ahead we could see the first polymer notes in 2016, starting with the new Winston Churchill £5 note and soon followed by the Jane Austen £10 note.

Would you be comfortable with plastic banknotes?

So what’s the argument for plastic banknotes? I’ll leave it to Charlie Bean, the deputy governor of the BOE, to make the case:

‘Polymer banknotes are cleaner, more secure and more durable than paper notes. They are also cheaper and more environmentally friendly.’

Mr Bean (no, not that one) also added that ‘the Bank of England would print notes on polymer only if we were persuaded that the public would continue to have confidence in, and be comfortable with, our notes’.

For the past three years, BOE researchers have been looking at what the adoption of plastic notes in the UK would look like. It also plans to hold 50 public events in the next two months to see whether you’d be up for them. But we thought we’d also bring the debate to you on Which? Conversation. And before you make your mind up, let’s look a little closer at the pros and cons.

For and against plastic banknotes

The plastic notes will apparently cost 50% more to produce. However, since they’ll reportedly survive a spin in a washing machine, they’ll last 2.5 times longer. This could save the Bank £10m a year as it wouldn’t need to reprint as many replacement notes.

ATMs and vending machines will have to be upgraded, which will of course come at a cost. Yet, operators suggest that machines will be less likely to jam.

The BOE’s primary reason to move to plastic notes appears to be the extra security – this comes from the flexible plastic layers allowing for more sophisticated anti-counterfeiting techniques to be placed between them.

Still, there’s certainly something about our good old paper money that makes them nice to handle. When I lived in Australia, the plastic notes didn’t feel like real money. Although it was magical watching a crunched up 20 dollar note return to its original state, I still missed the easily-foldable British notes.

The BOE will make its final decision in December, so which side of the fence are you on – the frayed paper fiver or the flexible plastic fiver?

If the Bank of England decided to print plastic banknotes, would you be:

Strongly in favour (36%, 539 Votes)

Somewhat in favour (25%, 378 Votes)

Neutral (22%, 322 Votes)

Strongly opposed (10%, 155 Votes)

Somewhat opposed (7%, 102 Votes)

Total Voters: 1,496

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I’m particularly looking forward to the new £5 note with Winston Churchill on it. If it’s going to be plastic so it doesn’t get grubby and crumpled, so much the better!


Australia has had plastic banknotes for years.
Highly successful!


I would be concerned about foldability and the notes sticking together. I imagine that cotton and linen as natural fibres are less likely to stick together than plastic. However, I welcome the fact that they will be more difficult to counterfeit, will last longer and we can all wipe clean our notes. Laundering our money will take on a whole new meaning. Will the bank tellers be able to count a large bundle of plastic notes as quickly as they do now?.


Paying with plastic will bring cash into line with other popular methods. I wonder if my wallet will fold as neatly as it does with paper notes?


You are on form tonight, Malcolm R.

Jo Andrew says:
12 September 2013

2016? Next year, please. I have been wondering for years when the UK would get round to this technology. Loved them when down under. We always seemed to be six years behind the Americans (remember advertisements for washing machines that would fit on your draining board?). Now we lag behind the Aussies. Fortunately our cost of living and houses are still
cheaper – for the moment. Roll on plastic cash, but don’t make the coins plastic just yet.


I foresee a problem with vending machines that take notes during the change over period but then they hardly ever seem to work anyway.

Do plastic notes rustle like the old paper ones?


My only concern is that they will slip through your hands quicker.