You may have noticed that the Bank of England has recently got into trouble over the use of tallow in the new ‘plastic’ five pound note.

It is ironic because it would appear to have all been in the cause of sustainability.

The new fiver is expected to last much longer than the old cloth (not paper) notes and therefore require less resources to replace – apparently, the lifetime is falling because of the increased number of transactions as inflation decreases the value of money in real terms.

So, the decision to use plastic was “sustainable”. But it has still resulted in vegetarians, vegans and religious groups rejecting the note because of the inclusion of an animal product in its manufacture. I understand to some degree, as my daughter is a vegetarian, but she’ll still accept the new fiver if she’s offered one. It was something similar that triggered the Indian Mutiny in the 18th century, I believe.

The trouble is, tallow IS sustainable in nature; obtained from dead animals, it is continuously available and doesn’t in itself take up any limited resources. That breeding animals involves resources and presumably fossil fuelled heat is used to release it from the carcass is accepted. The normal substitute would probably be mineral oil-based and thereby use up non-renewable resources extracted from an oil well – definitely not sustainable.

Hopefully they will be able to find a vegetable-based alternative – will we be then considering the “opportunity cost” of dedicating resources to that rather than food, or biofuel, crops?

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