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Environmental impact assessment

It will only be possible to compile the environmental impact assessment once the first notes to be issued have completed an entire life cycle. At such time, the SNB will publish an assessment for the ninth banknote series.

Environmental impact assessment for the eighth banknote series

The Swiss National Bank puts an average of almost 100 tonnes of banknotes in circulation every year. With the exception of publications, banknotes are its only physical product. Cash transactions account for just over half of the SNB’s operating costs. In its ecological charter, the National Bank therefore set itself the goal to make sure that “our banknotes are designed, distributed and disposed of in a way that is as environmentally compatible as possible. We demand that the producers of our banknotes use production methods that are ecologically sound.”

Because the SNB’s suppliers cannot be required to commit themselves to an environmental management system, the ecological concerns could only be enforced by cooperating as partners on the product level. In 1999, the entire life cycle of the 8th issue of the Swiss banknote was analysed with the help of an environmental impact assessment (or life cycle assessment = LCA). In addition to the SNB and its environmental consultants, representatives of the paper supplier, Landqart (www.landqart.ch), and Orell Füssli (www.ofs.ch), the company that prints the banknotes, took part in the study group.

 
Illustration: Process chart of banknote life cycle
*Process step no. 5 (use of banknotes; circulation) is not taken into account in the environmental impact assessment.

The environmental impact assessment (or life cycle assessment = LCA) compiles and portrays the environmental impact of the entire life cycle, from the harvesting of cotton to all the important production, transport, storage, and treatment processes, including the incineration of the destroyed banknotes (‘from the cradle to the grave’). Banknote circulation – the public’s use of banknotes – is not taken into consideration.

Even though the indicator value of the study is limited, the results provide enough information in order for us to answer some questions, for instance:

To what extent do our banknotes pollute the environment?

Our banknotes are not particularly critical for the environment. In spite of this fact, the annual environmental impact assessment tells us that banknotes account for approximately two-thirds of the SNB's overall environmental pollution. One reason for this surprisingly high figure is the large quantity and turnover of notes as well as the considerable power consumption, especially during the storing and processing of banknotes.

How about simply composting banknotes rather than burning them?

Contrary to popular belief, the manner in which we dispose of our banknotes is of little relevance from an ecological viewpoint. We are justified in making this statement despite the fact that, for lack of better data, we had to use data for recycled paper with normal printing to analyse the incineration process. Taking steps in this direction, therefore, would not bring about any marked improvement.

More detailed information on the environmental impact assessment can be found in an article published in the Quarterly Bulletin 3/2000:

Life cycle assessment (LCA) of Swiss banknotes
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