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Plastic money enters world wallets

From Geoff Hiscock
CNN Correspondent

Australia's plastic money: durable and virtually indestructible
Australia's plastic money: durable and virtually indestructible

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MELBOURNE, Australia (CNN) -- You can wash it, roll it, crumple it, try to tear it, but plastic money just keeps springing back to shape.

It looks a little shinier than paper money but it works just as well -- because it is real money.

Plastic notes have been part of the Australian money scene now for a decade, and increasingly they are finding their way into wallets around the world.

This month, Mexico becomes the latest recruit, dropping its 20 peso paper note for a new plastic bill after exhaustive testing and printing in Melbourne, Australia.

Mexico joins 20 other countries that have gone plastic. Along with Australia, New Zealand, China, Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, Brunei and Thailand are just some of the Asian countries that have also swapped their paper currency for the plastic variety. And Nepal will start next month.

Outside Asia, countries such as Brazil, Romania and Kuwait are converts too.

Euro chaos


- Australia produced the first polymer (plastic) note in 1988

- By 1996 all Australia's circulating notes were plastic

- Mexico became the 20th country to use plastic money in September 2002

- Plastic notes cost about 50% more but last up to five times longer than paper money

- Plastic notes are recyclable, cleaner, and harder to forge

Reasons for converting to plastic are not hard to find.

Plastic money -- which is actually made from a polymer substrate -- lasts longer, stays cleaner and is harder to counterfeit, because of its clear window and hologram effect.

The notes have a lifespan four or five times that of paper money -- and at the end, they can be recycled into granules that in turn are transformed into plastic garden products such as wheelbarrows and compost bins.

That is in sharp contrast to the experience in Europe earlier this year, when Germany's Bundesbank was forced to pulp 50 million euro notes that lasted just three months.

The technology to make plastic money was developed jointly by Australia's central bank and the national scientific research body, CSIRO.

Money in the bank

more video VIDEO
CNN's Geoff Hiscock reports on the trend of plastic currency in Australia, Mexico and other countries. (September 23)
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Now Australia's bank notes -- and samples for other countries -- are printed in Melbourne, using a special material.

"We've done trials in all of the major central banks in the world including Europe and the United States," says Myles Curtis, managing director for Securency, a joint venture formed in 1996 between the Reserve Bank of Australia, Australia's central bank, and UCB, a Belgian multi-national films, chemicals and pharmaceuticals company.

"And in fact we issued a note in China in the year 2000. But this is a five to ten year plan, things don't happen quickly in this business."

But there is a downside to the plastic notes.

Firstly, they cost more to produce and secondly they don't burn quite so crisply for high-rollers lighting a cigar.

But they are rarely fakes -- and that is like money in the bank.

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