World Environment Day at 50: the cash cycle

It is fifty years since the first United Nations Conference on the Human Environment, which led to the designation of 5 June as World Environment Day. This year’s theme is Only One Earth, which was the title of the original Stockholm conference in 1972.

The focus will be on living sustainably in harmony with nature by bringing transformative changes towards a cleaner, greener lifestyle. In March, a historic resolution was endorsed by representatives of 175 nations at the UN Environment Assembly to end plastic pollution and forge an international legally binding agreement by 2024. The resolution addresses the full lifecycle of plastic, including its production, design and disposal.

Standardisation is everything
The participants in the UK’s cash cycle are working together towards meeting the aims of the resolution by sharing best practice and reducing the use of plastic wherever possible across the supply chain. In addition to regular bimonthly meetings, a smaller group recently met in Birmingham to discuss specific types of packaging. These include plastic seals, outer containers for the bulk transport of cash and smaller note and coin packets.  

Working with the various suppliers of these items it is hoped to standardise and reduce packaging across the industry as well as increasing the percentage of waste that is recycled. 

A key feature of most of the packaging in use today is colour coding, with different coloured bags/printing being used for different denominations of coins and notes. This is a major barrier to effective recycling as the dyes must be separated from the material before reprocessing.  A review is being undertaken to ascertain whether in future single use packaging can be made of clear plastic with multipurpose labelling. This would allow better stock control for users as well as improving the quality of plastic available for recycling. 

Of course, in some circumstances there is an aspiration to cease using plastic altogether. However, coins have to be packed in something, and plastic is often the lightest, strongest alternative available as well as being environmentally friendly if correctly recycled. Having said that, plant-based alternatives are coming onto the market all the time. These are being tested in various locations, so the industry has this under constant review.

Driving skills and a roadmap 
There is a certain amount of unavoidable waste produced when cash is transported between banks and their customers, but steps are also being taken to improve driving techniques and reduce the carbon emissions from the vehicles moving cash around the country. 
Data relating to mileage and emissions is regularly monitored by the Cash Industry Environmental Charter Group, some members of which also contributed to the report Cash: a roadmap to sustainability. 


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