Life-Cycle Assessment of Canada's Polymer Bank Notes and Cotton-Paper Bank Notes - Executive Summary
Read the executive summary of the assessment.

Read the full report prepared by environmental impact experts, PE Americas and Tryskele Sustainable Environment, Health & Safety. The formal life-cycle assessment complied with ISO standards and was vetted by a critical review panel composed of experts on life-cycle assessment and on polymer and paper bank notes.

Better for the Environment

The Bank of Canada commissioned a life-cycle assessment by experts in this field to evaluate changing Canada’s bank note substrate from a cotton-based paper to a polymer material, and to compare the environmental impacts of producing and distributing both types of bank notes.

The study examined everything from the impact of growing cotton for bank note paper and of producing the raw material for polymer, through to the destruction and disposal of worn bank notes. The study found that polymer bank notes show benefits over paper notes for all the main phases of the life cycle, including manufacturing and distribution. Since polymer notes will last at least 2.5 times longer than paper notes, fewer polymer notes will have to be manufactured and distributed over the life of the series. Furthermore, polymer notes weigh less than paper notes.

The study examined nine internationally recognized categories for life-cycle impact assessment, including global warming potential and primary energy demands. In all categories, polymer shows improvements ranging from a 29 per cent to a 60 per cent reduction in environmental impact. It shows, for example:

  • a 32 per cent reduction in global warming potential
  • a 30 per cent reduction in primary energy demand

Recycling

At the time of the study, the Bank of Canada had not chosen a specific end-of-life scenario for polymer bank notes. So, for the sake of modeling, the end-of-life treatment currently in use for our cotton-based paper notes (landfill) was assumed. The Bank has since determined that it will recycle polymer notes once they become worn, which is expected to add to the environmental benefits.