Durability of Canada’s new plastic currency questioned

Steve Mertl
National Affairs Contributor
Daily Brew

When the Bank of Canada introduced a plastic $100 bill last November, the polymer currency was touted as being harder to counterfeit and more durable.

Now a Manitoba man is challenging the last part of that claim.

Charles Shepard of Brandon contends the high-tech bills, if they're cracked, have less strength than toilet paper.

Shepard was spurred to test the bills after getting some at his bank.

"When the teller counted the money out, right away (I) noticed that this one had a crack or something where it was folded," Shepard told CTV News.

When the teller handed him the money, two of the plastic $100s with cracks in them ripped even more. So Shepard decided to conduct his own little stress test.

He placed one of the damaged bills under a can of pop. When he pulled on the other end of the bill, it ripped in half.

"It's similar to thin tin foil or plastic food wrap," he said. "You pull on it but as soon as it's got a mark or tear on it, it just peels apart."

Shepard said he performed the same test on one of the old paper bills, this time a $50, which also had nicks in it. It withstood the cola-can test. Then he tested pieces of toilet paper, which stayed intact despite being weighed down by three cans.

"I don't think the Canadian $100 bill should be weaker than two-ply toilet paper," said Shepard.

Bank of Canada spokesman Ted Mieszkalski said it's aware of the issue but it's not a major concern.

"One of the elements of the polymer compound upon which the bills are printed will basically cause the bills to tear if there's a nick of any of the four sides of the bill," he said. "And the bills themselves can be cut but not torn."

Mieszkalski said the plastic bills are still more durable than paper ones but ripped bills can be exchanged for new ones at any financial institution.

Tearing may not be the only problem with the new bills.

The Cambridge Times reported one family in the southern Ontario town discovered the bills can melt if put too close to a heat source.

Nicolas Billard's son put eight of the new $100 bills - his Christmas bonus - into a chocolate tin behind a couch near a heater. When he went to retrieve them to deposit in the bank, they'd shriveled.

Billard's mother, Mona, sent the melted money to the Bank of Canada, which will examine it to determine whether it can be redeemed.

"We've never heard of a situation like this," Manuel Parreira, Bank of Canada spokesman for Ontario, told the Times.

Bank currency spokeswoman Julie Girard said the new bills can withstand temperatures down to -61C and boiling water but would melt if exposed to extreme heat. But she added such heat would burn paper.

The Bank of Canada is proceeding with its phased replacement of paper bills with the new polymer models. The plastic $50 is due to be issued in March, with $20, $10 and $50 bills due next year.

In an editorial, the Cambridge Times pointed out the first toonies had teething problems, too, when the centre of the two-piece coins fell out.

"The problem was quickly fixed. Given that money is involved, we'd bet this gets quickly fixed, too, and hopefully the Cambridge family involved will get their money back sooner than later."