34 No. 2
Synthetic polymers have an extraordinary range of physical properties and applications—from textiles and contact lenses to paints and food containers—and, thus, play a key role in daily life. Biaxially-oriented polypropylene (BOPP) film is a versatile polymeric material that has been widely used in the packaging and labeling industries due to its strength, flexibility, transparency, and printability. BOPP has also been the substrate of choice for the so-called polymer banknotes. First introduced as legal tender Down Under in 1988, they were jointly developed by the Reserve Bank of Australia and the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization. Although a majority of currencies in the world are still printed on high-quality cotton paper, polymer banknotes exhibit an enhanced resistance to wear and tear and tend to be cleaner since they repel dirt and are completely waterproof. In addition, polymer banknotes possess a number of unique security features, such as see-through windows with embedded holograms or diffraction gratings, which makes them very difficult to replicate with modern color photocopiers or scanners and thereby help to thwart counterfeiting.
The stamp illustrated here commemorates the seminal release of the first polymer banknote in Australia (1988) and is part of a set of five issued in 2004 to highlight Australian contributions to technological innovations, which also include ultrasound imaging equipment, flight data recorders, and race car video cameras. Several other countries, including Indonesia, Thailand, Brunei, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, New Zealand, Romania, Bangladesh, Nepal, Zambia, Vietnam, Chile, Mexico, Guatemala, Israel, Bermuda, and Nicaragua, have released their own polymer banknotes during the past two decades.
The latest country to “go plastic” is Canada, where a polymer banknote was issued for the first time last November. The front side of the new $100 bill features a portrait of Sir Robert Borden, Canadian Prime Minister from 1911 to 1920, while the back pays tribute to Canadian achievements in medicine and depicts a researcher using a microscope, a strand of DNA, an electrocardiogram, and a bottle of insulin to honor the discovery of the vital hormone by Frederick Banting and Charles Best.
While the debate between the cost of production versus durability of polymer banknotes remains to be settled, it may not be long before dollars, euros, and other currencies become “synthetic” in nature too.
last modified 5 March 2012.
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