Canada is trading in its paper currency for plastic. No, not credit cards, actual plastic money.
Sometime late in 2011, the Bank of Canada will replace the nation's traditional cotton-and-paper bank notes with currency made from a synthetic polymer. Canada will purchase its plastic money from a company in Australia, one of nearly two dozen countries where plastic currency is already in circulation.
Plastic money lasts anywhere from two to five times longer than paper money, performs better in vending machines, and is harder to counterfeit. And unlike paper currency, plastic money doesn't shed tiny bits of ink and dust that can disable ATMs by confusing their optical readers.
Plastic money also stays cleaner and becomes less grubby than paper money, because the non-porous surface doesn't absorb perspiration, body oils, or liquids. In fact, the plastic money is virtually waterproof, so the bills won't be ruined if they are left in a pocket by mistake and end up in the washing machine. Actually, plastic money can take a lot of abuse. You can bend and twist plastic currency without damaging it.
The new plastic money is also less likely to spread disease, because it's harder for bacteria to cling to the slick, non-absorbent surface.
Canada will also pay less for its new plastic money. While the plastic bank notes cost more to print than their paper equivalents, their longer life means Canada will end up printing far fewer bills and save a substantial amount of, well, money in the long run.
All in all, it looks like plastic money is good for the government and good for consumers. Even the environment could end up cashing in on the trend toward plastic currency. It turns out plastic money can be recycled and used to manufacture other plastic products such as compost bins and plumbing fixtures.
Yet, the benefits of recycling are not exclusive to plastic money. For the past several years, various companies have been recycling worn out paper currency and using the recycled material in products ranging from pencils and coffee mugs to, ironically and appropriately, piggy banks.