New £5 and £10 banknotes have smaller lifetime carbon impact

New £5 and £10 notes unveiled by the Bank of England earlier this month have carbon footprints 16% and 8% lower than previous paper versions, new analysis from the Carbon Trust has revealed.

Bank of England governor Mark Carney unveiled new polymer version of the £10 banknote on July 18, that are designed to last 2.5 times longer than current paper notes and are difficult to counterfeit.

This week, the Carbon Trust has certified that over a full life cycle, the £5 polymer banknote has a 16% lower carbon footprint than its paper variant, while £10 notes have an 8% lower carbon footprint.

Certification was completed in accordance with the PAS 2050 international standard, which covers life-cycle emissions – including production, use in circulation and disposal. The carbon reductions were largely achieved because of the extended lifetime of the polymer versions, with £10 set to last five years rather than two years for paper banknotes.

The extended lifetime of polymer banknotes also means that the Bank of England can print fewer notes to replace those damaged in circulation. This means that fewer resources are used in production, again reducing emissions. The waste from old polymer notes will be fully recycled.

The new £10 note will be issued on 14 September 2017, and has been described by Carney as “safer, stronger and cleaner”. The public can still use older, paper banknotes, but these will gradually be pulled from circulation. A new £20 note featuring J.M.W Turner will follow in 2020.

Banking on change

The new banknotes could be placed into a personal current account that embraces responsible finance. Sustainable banking group Triodos’ account will challenge the practices of many high-street banks by providing transparency by publishing details of every loan it makes online.

Carney has been a huge driver for climate awareness in the financial sector, although the Bank of England governor remains cautious about the low-carbon transition.

He previously claimed that the transition to a low-carbon economy is filled with potential paradoxes that could lead to either the current generation having no “direct incentive” to drive change, or actually transitioning too quickly to the point where financial stability would be damaged.

Carney previously warned that around $7trn would need to be spent on new green infrastructure across the globe in order to cut carbon emissions over the next 20 years.

Matt Mace

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie