Every country that has introduced polymer banknotes has seen a decrease in counterfeiting, says Stane Straus, a polymer-banknote collector in Kranj, Slovenia, who does consulting work for countries and companies working with the plastic money. “The challenge is to stay ahead of the counterfeiters in this game,” Straus says. “They will eventually catch up with everything you do, because everything can be counterfeited, but the polymer banknote offers more options for changes in the future.”
Some are skeptical about the advantages of plastic money, including Douglas Crane, vice president of Crane and Co., the Massachusetts family company that is the exclusive supplier of the paper that U.S. currency is printed on. Crane doesn’t think the polymer bills are so hard to fake, and he says that Mexico’s switch to 20- and 50-peso polymer notes hasn’t been very successful. “They have a very high counterfeiting problem on the 50-peso note,” he says.
Still, even countries that have stuck with paper bills are incorporating plastic into them. The next version of the U.S. $100 bill will contain a thin strip made of about 850,000 polymer microlenses. When the bill is tilted, the lenses will reveal one of two images printed beneath: the Liberty Bell or the number 100. The bill also features ink that changes color when viewed from different angles. The new $100 bill was due out in February, 2011, but production problems have delayed its release, according to the U.S. Federal Reserve.
Polymer notes cost about twice a much to produce as paper ones, but they could stay in circulation longer. A study requested by the Bank of Canada estimated that the new bills would last two and a half times as long as paper notes. Securency says they last four times as long.
All that could be bad news for banknote printers. “They will lose three-quarters of their business,” Straus says. Indeed, the currency printer BA International said it would shut down its banknote printing operation in Ottawa and lay off about 190 workers by the end of this year because of decreased demand for its services.
Don’t expect dollars or euros to go plastic anytime soon, however. Currencies tend to change slowly, because of both the lobbying power of banknote producers and the conservative nature of bankers. A spokesperson for the U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing says the government has investigated the use of plastic substrates but has no plans to introduce them. “The U.S. and the E.U. have to be very careful about new and untested technologies,” says Straus. “I think they will be one of the last to switch to polymer, because they want to be convinced beyond a doubt that there is no problem.”