London (CNN) – Nearly 50 million plastic bank notes have had to be replaced since they were launched due to damage and wear, according to PA news agency.
About 20 million of the Bank of England’s new polymer £5 ($6.54) notes have been replaced in the first three years since they were introduced in 2016, and around 26 million plastic £10 notes have also been replaced by the Bank since their September 2017 launch, PA reported, citing figures obtained through Freedom of Information requests.
Plastic bills — made of polymers instead of traditional paper materials — were introduced into circulation by the Bank of England in 2016.
According to Bank of England figures, there were around 400 million £5 bills and 1 billion £10 bills in circulation in 2019.
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The first plastic note — worth £5 — bore the face of wartime leader Winston Churchill, followed by the £10 note featuring author Jane Austen. A polymer £20 note, featuring English painter JMW Turner, is due to be released in 2020.
In the latest Bank of England annual report, Bank of England governor Mark Carney said polymer notes “last more than twice as long” as paper notes.
“Polymer notes are safer than paper notes, and last more than twice as long. They are also better for the environment due to both their longevity and recyclability,” Carney said in the bank’s 2019 report.
The report also states: “Our decision to move to polymer notes will deliver lasting environmental benefits due to their durability.”
The bank said the damage to the bills “mainly relates to folds, tears, holes and foil wear” and is “consistent with the general wear” expected for bank notes.
CNN has contacted the Bank of England for comment.
The plastic notes have previously courted controversy after the Bank confirmed that traces of tallow, derived from animal fat, could be found in the currency.
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