50 Shades of Green - Making Banknotes Sustainable.
Louisenthal has launched a new initiative to analyse the ecological footprint of banknotes, assess its own efforts and make the environment one of the core aspects of all future product and production development. This includes an analysis of the production of banknotes with regard to sustainability and the launch of an information campaign - ‘The Life of a Banknote’ - to raise awareness. It also aims to assist central banks and print works in their efforts to improve the sustainability of banknotes.
According to the company, stringent requirements to ensure security, durability, functionality and design set the framework for sustainability concerns. Also, as a physical product, banknotes require packaging, transportation and, ultimately, disposal - all of which pose limitations.
Nevertheless, within those confines, it intends to do what it can, focusing on four key areas - raw materials, production (energy, water), transport (packing, logistics), as well as disposal and recycling. It has outlined areas where sustainability already plays a role, and has steps planned to further improve the lifecycle and thus the ecological footprint over the lifespan of a banknote. And, whilst initially driven by Louisenthal, the campaign will cover the whole of G+D’s activities in the currency sector - with a sustainability roadmap for all product management.
In terms of raw materials, this covers the principle component of banknotes - namely, cotton. This accounts for just 0.372% of the worldwide trade in raw cotton and is, in any case, a waste product of the textile industry which (apart from alternative uses for products such as cotton pads) would otherwise go to landfill. In addition to cotton, the company already sources alternative materials (such as abacca, used in the paper for the Philippines’ banknotes), and plans to use more fair trade and eco-certified cotton in future along with alternative renewable fibres and plastics.
The second area is production and resource conservation. It is impossible to produce banknotes without electricity, heat and water. Yet, says Louisenthal, there are many ways to save on resources. In recent years it has invested €15 million in a more resource-friendly production process.
The paper mill and foil plant in Gmund am Tegernsee, for example, now produce almost 25% of electricity requirements on site and in a carbon-neutral manner: three water turbines and combined heat and power generation in the boiler house supply on average 10 gigawatt hours per year. In addition, Louisenthal is looking at using roof spaces to install solar panels. The goal is to eventually use 100% renewable energy in production.
Energy conservation goes hand in hand with preventing pollution. The mill is close to the Tegernsee, which is fed from the Bavarian Alps and is one of the main drinking water catchment areas for nearby Munich. From the very start of production, therefore, environmental protection has been at the heart of the company’s operations. The return of pristine water to the Mangfall River, which runs through the Louisenthal site and into the Tegernsee, is a given. In addition, Louisenthal has reduced the demand for water by 40% compared to 2010 by using its own wastewater treatment facility. The goal is a largely closed water cycle, with as little fresh water introduced as possible.
In terms of packaging, notes are currently shrink-wrapped in bundles, which uses a lot of plastic, and generates a lot of waste. Staff have come up with the idea of using G+D Currency Technology’s NotaTracc® trays for transportation instead. By 2021 the sorting and packaging of notes will be thus completely automated - resulting in a 25% saving of the amount of packaging used. At the same time, work is underway to develop bioplastic trays made from scrap paper, grass fibres and recycled plastic granulate. Shrink wrap is also used for reams of finished paper.
A new packaging system - Ready2Press - is currently under development, involving the replacement of the shrink wrap with corrugated board (slats) while the stacks of reams (up to 16 reams per stack) are wrapped in an outer layer of cardboard with a wafer thin plastic coating. This system would not only remove virtually all plastic, but would save production time too as the reams would no longer have to be unwrapped before being fed into the printing presses.
We don't seek to ‘greenwash’ our company, we want to make a realistic assessment: Which measures are working well already? Where can we improve?«
Last but not least, the company is taking a close look at disposal. With its hybrid substrate it ensures that notes last longer in the first place, so that fewer notes have to be disposed of. But for those that do, incineration (which generates heat) is one option. Another is incorporation into building products such as cement. And another still, although in development at the moment, is an anaerobic method of disposal. This is currently being tested in Colombia, and the company is keeping a close eye on its progress.
Whatever the method for destruction and disposal, Louisenthal’s goal is 100% of its notes to be recycled or subject to thermal recovery.
‘We don't seek to ‘greenwash’ our company, we want to make a realistic assessment: Which measures are working well already? Where can we improve?’ said Clemens Berger, Chairman of the Management Board at Louisenthal. ‘Our banknote substrates use sustainable raw materials sourced as responsibly as possible and are produced, distributed, processed and destroyed in an environmentally friendly manner wherever feasible.’
In the meantime, it concentrates on making currency as green as possible. ‘We are optimistic’ it said. ‘Our goal is ambitious but feasible. Especially if we take our clients with us on this journey, and they themselves start demanding greener banknotes’.
Article first published in Currency News July 2019