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The ridiculousness of Canada’s “melting” money

Canada's plastic $100 banknote
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Canada’s plastic $100 banknoteBank of Canada

Unconfirmed reports that Canada’s money melts when subjected to high heat have raised eyebrows about the Bank of Canada’s decision to begin printing polymer currency. It first started printing the plastic banknotes in late 2011, beginning with C$100 notes. Since then, a handful of residents have come forward, complaining that the notes shriveled up when placed in a tin can next to a heater or on a toaster, which of course is where all sensible people keep their cash. And so on Dec. 31, the bank released 134 pages of heavily redacted documents related to an investigation it conducted into the supposedly melting money, and said that discussing the matter further would pose a threat to national security.

Canada is not alone in switching to plastic. In October 2011, 3 billion polymer-based notes were being circulated in 22 countries worldwide. A lot of that currency is in circulation in warm places. Nicaragua, which has used polymer notes since 2007, has averaged a temperature of 26.3ºC (79.3ºF) during April and May, its hottest months, from 1900-2009. By contrast, Canada averaged a mere 10.7ºC in its hottest month, July. If polymer notes were really so prone to melting, one would have thought this would be a problem by now.

The Bank of Canada doesn’t think it is. But even if the reports are true, polymer beats paper on pretty much every other score. Since Australia first began using plastic currency in 1988, polymer banknotes have proven more durable than their dollar counterparts; Canada expects its C$100 note to last a full 20 years, twice as long as the old paper bills. Furthermore, the bills won’t break down when they accidentally end up in the washing machine. Not to mention the fact that the plastic is recyclable and the plastic bills are harder to counterfeit than the old paper ones.

Last but not least, the polymers appear to be no more dangerous to the nation’s economy than paper bills. Even if shoddy construction caused bills to melt en masse in, say, a bank vault situated too near an underground lava flow (we’re grasping at straws here), it’s just as easy to imagine a situation where a vault full of paper bills floods or someone sets fire to them.

Which seems to be exactly what the Bank of Canada is saying by censoring its report: “No, we will not show you how we make our money, because we’re more worried you’re going to counterfeit it than about it melting away. But if it does melt, we’ll investigate and give you new bills. That’s it.” Smart move, BoC. Smart move.

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