In September, the Bank of England released a new plastic five-pound note to much pomp and circumstance, and Brits celebrated by dipping it in curry and throwing it in tea. But now, the country’s vegans, vegetarians, Hindus, Sikhs, and Jains are feeling duped after finding out that the new polymer-based money contains animal fat in the form of tallow. This mess was not inevitable: Extra funding and foresight might have prevented the mess altogether.
The Bank of England confirmed that the five-pound note contained tallow — rendered fat from beef and mutton that’s solid at room temperature — in a tweet on Monday. Since then, it has reiterated its statement to multiple sources. A petition demanding the removal of the notes has garnered 105,455 signatures as of Wednesday.
The Bank of England buys polymer pellets to make its notes from Innovia Films, a company that also provides the substrate to 24 other countries, including Australia, Canada, and Mexico. Patricia Potts, a spokesman for Innovia Films, told CNN that there are “minute” traces of tallow in the polymer but that the company did not know that fact until recently.
“They are looking to eliminate that, but obviously that will take time,” Potts told CNN. “It’s a very difficult process.”
Tallow is used in making plastic to make the material more “anti-static” and to neutralize trace additives. Polymer banknotes are made from plastic pellets that are melted down, blown into a huge bubble, then pressed down again and cooled until they form a polymer film. Inks are added to make this film opaque, except for the parts designers want to keep clear.
But while beef tallow has historically been used as the key ingredient for more lubricant plastics, there is increasing interest and research into using vegetable fats (like cocoa butter) as an alternative. But while the research exists, it has not been widely applied to manufacturing because of costs, save for in the biomedical field.
If nations don’t want to isolate their own citizens, it would be a wise investment. It’s one thing to be vegan and knowingly choose not to eat certain foods or to use plastic bags, but it’s another to have to use the only money available to you. So far, the only polymer note Britain has is the fiver; a ten-pound polymer note is expected to be released in 2017, and a 20-pound note in 2020. Britain’s meat-abstaining population will have to wait and see whether their wishes will be respected in the coming years.