Euro banknote production has a large stakeholder group – 19 national central banks (NCBs), 12 printing works, six paper mills and 22 raw material suppliers – overseen by the ECB through its regulations and co-operative working.
The sustainability journey the euro system has been on started in 2004 with its LCA, which assessed the 3 billion notes produced in 2003. It used the ISO 14040 approach and established that the environmental impact of euro production was the equivalent of each European citizen driving a car for one kilometre or leaving a 60W light bulb switched on for 12 hours.
In 2008 the ECB required suppliers to adopt the ISO 14001 Environmental Management System (EMS), which is reviewed annually by off-site inspections. The ECB also started collecting environmental data from all manufacturers, again by off-site inspections. This annual data collection included consumption, emissions, where waste finally ends up and environmental performance such as environmental accidents and incidents.
A part of the ECBs environmental work has been the decision to extend note life by adding protective coatings to the €5 (2012), €10 (2013) and €20 (2021). The data shows that the protective layer extends note life by about 50% reducing, as a result, the number of banknotes that need to be produced.
In 2014 a new sustainable cotton programme started. Euro banknotes are made from cotton fibres, a by-product of the textile industry. The 2004 LCA had identified that the environmental damage involved in the production of cotton is a significant part of the overall environmental impact of banknote production. The programme started by requiring a proportion of the cotton used to come from sustainable cotton sources. Initially this was organic, fair trade cotton but this has not moved on to being defined as cotton from integrated production. The objective is that, by 2023, 100% of the cotton will come from sustainable sources.
In 2017 and 2018 waste surveys were carried out to understand what was happening to waste, final waste destinations and types of waste. These surveys are now part of the annual environmental data collection. R&D projects now include a focus on environmental recycling of banknote waste. The use of landfill as a waste disposal method is banned.
Euro product environmental footprint project
The latest part of the ECB’s journey started in 2020 with its Product Environmental Footprint (PEF) project.
This uses a harmonised methodology developed by the European Commission for environmental assessment. The PEF is based on the LCA methodology, starting with resource inputs, water, energy, raw materials, and following through the production and life cycle of a banknote to the emissions, water, air and land.
To date the ECB has completed the first phase, defining the goals and scope of the PEF, and is now working to compile the lifecycle inventory, starting with working with two central banks as part of a screening step. That leaves conducting the LCA and reporting on the Environmental Footprint to do.
The journey continues!