Banknotes and coins

Environmental sustainability

Euro banknotes have been an environmentally friendly product since their launch. They are produced using cotton fibres sourced exclusively from the waste by-product of the textile industry, and can therefore be described as made from recycled materials.

Moving a step further, in 2014 the Banknote Committee (comprising representatives of the ECB and all national central banks that have adopted the euro as their national currency) decided to gradually replace the cotton used in banknote paper with sustainably grown cotton. This has been progressively implemented since and by 2023 all euro banknotes will be produced entirely from sustainable cotton.

A further environmentally friendly measure was the introduction of varnished banknotes in the Europa series (2012). Varnishing the €5, €10 and €20 euro banknotes has significantly extended their average lifetime, thereby reducing the need to replace euro banknotes and, consequently, meaning fewer raw materials and less energy are used to produce them.

Subsequently, in 2020, the Banknote Committee adopted a further commitment: to ban Eurosystem national central banks (as of 2022) and accredited euro banknote manufacturers (as of 2023) from sending to landfill any waste from banknote destruction or other production processes. Instead, the waste would be recycled or, failing that, used in energy recovery solutions, ruling out any more environmentally damaging alternatives. The Banco de España has delivered on this commitment one year ahead of schedule. Since 2021, the Banco de España has sent zero waste to landfill and plans to put approximately 20% of its waste towards recycling and the rest towards energy recovery. However, the Banco de España’s commitment does not end there. It has also launched several avenues of research to identify new and even more environmentally friendly recycling systems for banknote waste, together with various initiatives to implement environmental management procedures in relation to the waste generated in cash management. The aim is to protect the environment and continuously improve its environmental performance.

Lastly, since 2020 the Banco de España has been among the national central banks to work most actively with the Eurosystem to update the calculations of the environmental impact of cash. The methodology developed by the European Commission’s Product Environmental Footprint initiative is being used for this purpose. The previous calculation was performed in 2004, which led to measures such as replacing the banknote paper with a sustainably produced alternative and requiring any manufacturers wanting to engage in the production of euro banknotes to hold environmental certification ISO 14001 (the ECB’s website provides additional information on the environmental requirements relating to euro banknotes). The update of the Product Environmental Footprint calculations is expected to reveal further potential environmental improvements that will be implemented in the coming years.

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