How organic and fair is our cotton? Anyone who’s ever tried to buy a really good shirt knows only too well that sustainably, fairly produced cotton is hard to find. Cultivation requires a lot of water, seeds are often genetically modified, plants treated with pesticides. Not only that, many plantation workers operate in difficult, unhealthy conditions and are often not paid fair wages. To produce our banknotes we almost exclusively use a waste product from the textile industry, which accounts for just 0.375 percent of the world’s raw cotton. Moreover, we use the part of the harvest that can’t be used for producing high-quality fashion. Does that put us completely in the clear? No. We believe that we can do better even with relatively small improvements. That’s why we are committed to using fair, certified organic cotton waste in our banknotes, despite a highly competitive market. Supply is very limited and often the goods only partially meet our required standards – they are organic, for example, but not fairly produced. We are not able to check that what the labels promise is really true. In addition, the raw material must meet our quality criteria with regard to the length and thickness of fibers, the amount of foreign matter contained within, the level of micronaire and the absence of fluorescence. As we only purchase a waste product, we have no influence over the quantity or quality of cotton on the market. Nevertheless, you can read about how we hope to promote the cultivation of cotton that is in harmony with man and nature and humanity under “Our ambitions”.
…another man’s treasure.
Turning trash into cash. Did you know that we use a waste product from the textile industry to make our banknote substrates? The textile industry mainly uses long cotton fibers, while the short ones, known as “noils”, are used to make cotton wool pads, cotton buds and – you guessed it – banknotes.
All cotton – or not? Really good, organic, Fairtrade cotton is hard to come by. So, why not just switch to another raw material? It’s not that easy, as we found out. Cotton has been used as a substrate for banknotes for centuries, and has come to mean something over and above its actual material value in some countries. In addition, it’s a real all-rounder: It can survive washing machines and irons, and is difficult to tear. Studies of flax, hemp and polyamide fibers show that there is no substitute ≥ 1 Where our cotton comes from. The core of our banknote substrates is cotton noils, which we purchase mainly from spinning mills in Asia and southern European countries via intermediaries, not directly from the growers. The cotton does not necessarily come from the country where the mills are located. To determine the exact origin, we can ask the intermediary. 10 11 that is able to compete with cotton in every category. Maybe the solution is to combine cotton with something else. Louisenthal has come up with Synthec®, a product that is much far more tear-resistant and therefore more durable thanks to the addition of a few synthetic fibers. Research is currently underway into how to harvest these fibers from recycled plastic, such as shredded PET bottles.
Despite this, we remain open to experimenting with plant-based alternatives and are happy to respond to input from our customers. The new Philippine peso, for example, is 80 percent cotton and 20 percent local abacá banana hemp, which is also used to make tea bags, cigarette paper, sausage casings and industrial filters. It’s also possible to experiment with fibers from Europe, such as replacing some of the cotton noils with hemp.
As much as necessary. As little as possible.
Our use of plastic as a raw material
We use plastic for the security features on our banknotes and also to increase the lifespan of the notes. It is found in the security threads and the ultrathin foil that encases the cotton core (Hybrid™, Hybrid ADDvance®), protecting the banknote from dirt and moisture. We buy the foil from manufacturers in Europe – where they melt down polyester flakes and then stretch them into foil. All petroleum-based plastics have limited availability and resist degradation. So we’ve established a simple rule for our use of them: As much as necessary. As little as possible. As much as necessary for the banknote to have as long a lifespan as possible. Because nothing is as energy-intensive as a banknote that constantly has to be disposed of and then reproduced. And as much as necessary in order to ensure that the banknote can’t be counterfeited. As a rule of thumb, lower denominations need to be particularly resilient as they pass through a lot of hands, but they don’t necessarily need the full battery of security features. With high-denomination banknotes it’s the other way around: They don’t need to be as tough as their circulation rate is lower, but they need more security features. That’s why we use the thinnest foil that can be processed mechanically, and around eight times as much cotton as foil.
We use the thinnest foil that can be processed mechanically, just as thick as a fifth of a human hair
No more crumble in the tumble
Why we are proud of our wet strength agent. It’s easily done: You stick a fiver in your jeans pocket and then later on stick your jeans in the washing machine. To make sure that the banknote doesn’t fall apart in the wash, we mix a “wet strength agent” into the cotton substrate. We use a third-generation agent, the best and the cleanest on the market. In fact, we have little choice in the matter given the location of our plant within the catchment area for drinking water for the city of Munich, where the threshold values are particularly low. To ensure that the agent meets our requirements, we have developed together with our suppliers an improved, even purer product – which, of course, is that little bit more expensive.
How sustainable can a banknote be? We took a hard look at our entire value chain: What is going well? Where could we do even better?
The Life of a Banknote
Louisenthal is running the Life of a Banknote program to promote tangible action for green banknotes, including the use of green energy, fair-trade cotton, reusable packaging and recycling. Did you know we produce 25% of our own electricity and have reduced water consumption by 40% in 9 years?