Can polymer banknotes really be greener than paper? All the research says yes. Across the whole life cycle, polymer easily outperforms paper for environmental impact.

And, at the end of life, instead of sending worn out notes to an incinerator, GUARDIAN™ polymer banknotes can simply be recycled.


Paper notes are generally made from cotton that requires a lot of energy to produce and to keep in circulation. In addition, cotton uses a huge amount of water in its production cycle. At the end of their useful life paper notes are typically put into landfill or burnt for energy, while the polymer used for plastic banknote notes can be recycled.

greener to use

Research carried out in 2018 for the Bank of Mexico found that the production and distribution of polymer banknotes resulted in a 48.8% reduction in greenhouse gases[1], compared to paper bank notes.

longer life

Because polymer banknotes last around 3.8 to 6 times times longer than paper notes, waste is reduced to a bare minimum. For higher denomination notes, the life cycle can be more than 6 times longer than paper. These figures are common to many tests carried out by national banks around the world. The Reserve Bank of Australia, for instance, found that while $5 and $10 paper notes had lifespans of a year or less[2], the polymer versions had lifespans from 3 to nearly 8 years.


The polymer in plastic banknotes can be recycled as a wide range of other items. The Reserve Bank of Australia lists[3] building components, plumbing fittings, compost bins and other household and industrial products amongst the items that can be made from recycled notes. This is one reason why polymer notes have less impact on the environment. Paper notes are resource-intensive and are difficult to recycle, often being incinerated.

[1] CCL Secure, Specimen Magazine, Mexico, [online], Available at here, Pg.20
[2] Reserve Bank of Australia, 12th December 2019, A Cost-Benefit Analysis of Polymer Banknotes, [online], Available at:
[3] Reserve Bank of Australia, 2020, Recycling, [online], Available at:

To find out more, contact the GUARDIAN team