"Paper or plastic?" That question isn't asked frequently at grocery stores anymore, but it may be poised for a comeback - at Canadian banks.
The Bank of Canada will start issuing high-tech currency made of polymers instead of the traditional cotton paper and featuring transparent windows (one shaped like a maple leaf) to frustrate counterfeiters.
Security and verification features include raised ink in the numerals and the featured portrait, color-shifting images embedded in the large window, and a number hidden in the maple-leaf window.
"Our mandate at the Bank of Canada is to make sure Canadians can use these notes with confidence," bank spokeswoman Julie Girard said.
The first note to be issued will be the $100 bill, scheduled for November. Those will be followed by a $50 note in March and $20 note later in 2012. The $10 and $5 bills will come out by the end of 2013.
For the next six months, the Bank of Canada will work at educating the public and businesses on the new notes. It will also inform retailers, financial institutions and law enforcement agencies about how to check the new security features, the bank said in a statement.
The new bills will be the same size and colors as current bills (though thinner and lighter). They can be folded and carried in a wallet, though they can't be creased and will return to their original shape, Girard said. For carrying loose bills in one's pocket, a money clip might be a good idea, she advised.
The polymer currency will be more durable than its paper predecessor, Girard said.
"It's not meant to go through the wash and it's not meant to go through the dryer, and it's certainly not meant to be ironed," but it should withstand the occasional mishap, she said.
Their resistance to crinkling and becoming limp like paper bills will make the new notes easier and more efficient to process, she said. For example, they won't be rejected by vending machines because of bent corners and they will stack neatly for counting machines.
The new bills cost almost twice as much to produce but are expected to last 2.5 times as long, Girard said. Their lighter weight also will cut transportation costs, and the Bank of Canada intends to recycle them when they wear out, providing another environmental benefit, she said.
As before, the new bills will be color-coded and have tactile features to help visually impaired people distinguish one denomination from another.
About 30 other countries already use polymer notes for some or all of their currency, Girard said.
Australians accepted their polymer bills and consider them more hygienic than paper ones, according to polymernotes.org. The Reserve Bank of Australia also reported it needed to devote fewer resources to checking the authenticity of the more secure notes.