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Plastic Money...and We're Not Talking About Credit Cards
Australia and the Polymer Banknote
When you go to pay for something in Australia you whip out the plastic, regardless of whether you are paying by credit card or by cash. You see, Australia's banknotes are printed on plastic. Well, if you want to be really precise about it, they are printed on polymer.
Now why change from trusty paper currency to something that seems harder to make, and more expensive to produce? The invention of colour photocopiers was the reason for the change. Not only has Australia got plastic money, but it is very colourful plastic money. Some foreign tourists have even compared it to monopoly money, but let's face it they are used to the monochromatic sameness of their own notes. The Australian currency is pretty with all its colours.
The other reason for changing was a little more practical. Too many politicians had shredded large denomination banknotes in the wash, and thought it was a good idea to change to plastic, so that they could continue not checking their pockets. The Reserve Bank just wanted to save on printing costs by not having to replace notes as often.
Polymer Currencies of the World
Where Did They Come From?
I'm glad you asked.
Now, Australia can't lay claim to introducing the first of these fantastic plastic notes. That honour goes to Costa Rica and Haiti, which tested out a version of plastic currency in 1982. The notes used a plastic called Tyvek Polymers and was developed by DuPont. It didn't work out the way it was intended, as the ink tended to rub off because they were in the tropics, and the developers had to go back to the drawing board. They also had to find another hot country in which to test their invention.
By 1988 another version of the plastic was available, and it worked a lot better. Australia printed its first plastic note - the $10 commemorative note for the bicentenary. The Reserve Bank liked it so much that after much negotiation, the decision was made to print the rest of the currency using this plastic as well.
As with all of these types of innovations, it did not go smoothly. At first the bank had a hologram as part of the security features on the $5 note when it was printed. It was nifty and it scratched off, and the ink wasn't really up to scratch on the note itself. There was even a rumour going around about the other flaw in this "indestructible" note: It could be shrunk in the microwave. Not having tried it myself, I can't verify that rumour either one way or another.
By 1996 all Australian banknotes circulated were being printed on polymer. The Reserve Bank was happy because they didn't have to replace banknotes as often. The politicians were happy because they didn't have to worry about their banknotes being torn to little pieces in the wash anymore, and the rest of us were trying to find ways to destruct them. Well, not really. Money doesn't grow on trees, you know.
Some Hints For Tourists Unused to Plastic Money
Here are some hints for tourists coming to Australia from countries where paper notes are still made:
- If you are one of these people who likes to fold your banknotes up and put them in your pocket, you could be in a little strife. The plastic note resists folding and doesn't easily crease. They bounce back. You could end up with a bulge in an unexpected place.
- Don't try microwaving them. Really.
- Don't hold the note up to the sun and look through the clear bit trying to work out how they did it. Trust me. You'll get sunburned before you figure it out. If you must persist, then wear plenty of sunscreen.
- Don't use the notes for Monopoly games. Trust me, they don't fit in the box afterwards. Or if you do make sure you're the winner.
- If you want to wash test the notes, go right ahead. As a bonus, adding bleach won't dim the colours one bit.
- Polymer banknote - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Wikipedia entry for the Polymer banknote. This page talks about the history of the polymer note and gives a timeline for its adoption.
- Polymer Bank Notes by Trevor Wilkins
Polymer banknotes from a collector's perspective.
- The World Standard in Innovation
Innovation: A page on the Australian banknote, and why it is innovative by world standards/
- The world’s first polymer banknote (Achievement)
This is the CSIRO's page on the Australian Banknote. The CSIRO were heavily involved in the development of the polymer banknote in Australia, and are one of Australia's leading thinktanks and research laboratories.
- About Australia: Our Currency
The Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade webpage on Australian Currency.
- Australian dollar - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
The Wikipedia page for the Australian dollar, which tells you more about Australian money, including those annoying $1 and $2 coins.