Britain's New Plastic Pound

The polymer-based note can survive a washing machine and a plate of curry.

Sample plastic five and 10 pound notes on display at the Bank of England in London.
Sample plastic five and 10 pound notes on display at the Bank of England in London. (Reuters )

NEWS BRIEF Cotton-based paper currency is so yesterday.

The Bank of England announced Tuesday it would introduce into circulation 440 million five-pound notes made of plastic. The new currency is expected to be cleaner, stronger, and more secure than the country’s existing paper currency.

The new fiver, as the five-pound note is known, is printed on a flexible polymer material. It will be 15 percent smaller and last two-and-a-half times longer than its cotton-based predecessor. The note, which pictures the Queen of England on the front and former Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill on the back, will be used exclusively after the old fiver is phased out in May.

Mark Carney, the head of the Bank of England, said the new currency is durable enough to survive a spin cycle in a washing machine. He went one step further to demonstrate the plastic fiver’s strength by dipping it in a tray of curry at London’s Whitecross Street Market.

The note’s design features several anti-counterfeiting elements. Parts of the note are transparent, and the image of Big Ben is printed in gold foil on the front and silver on the back—details far more difficult to fake.

The BBC reports new plastic 10-pound notes, featuring the novelist Jane Austen, and 20-pound notes, featuring the artist JMW Turner, are expected to be introduced into circulation in 2017 and 2020, respectively.