If the hype behind plastic money can be believed, then filthy lucre may soon be a thing of the past in Britain—at least as far as money loaded with bacteria.
The new 5-pound ($6.60) bill introduced Sept. 13 is made of a strong polymer and can handle a trip through the washing machine without shredding, unlike the paper cash it's replacing.
It's got the latest anti-counterfeiting and security features, and Bank of England officials insist it will be cleaner, safer and stronger than paper money.
Studies have shown that paper money is a veritable petri dish, hosting thousands of types of bacteria. A 2014 study at New York University found each dollar bill carries 3,000 types of bacteria. The largest crop of bugs found is one that causes acne. Anthrax or diphtheria could also be lurking there, along with antibiotic-resistant bacteria, staph, E. coli and diphtheria. Also found were germs linked to gastric ulcers, pneumonia and food poisoning.
Another study in 2012 at Queen Mary University of London tested English bank notes and found the same levels of E. coli as a toilet seat.
But plastic money may not be a germophobe's holy grail. While NYU and other studies have found plastic cash harbors fewer contaminants than its paper counterpart, a 2013 study published in the journal Antimicrobial Resistance and Infection Control found that some germs actually live longer on plastic notes.
Some 440 million of the new notes will be phased in, to be followed in the coming years by new 10-pound and 20-pound plastic bills.
Brits will still have a choice of paper or plastic until May 15, 2017, when the old notes will no longer be legal tender.