I think we all have dealt with having to wait in line at a grocery store or at a coffee shop and having to just stand there while somebody counts out each and every cent. Not to mention the constant hassle these coins cause. They just jingle in your pocket and stack up over time. At my place we have a full jar of pennys. They are completely and utterly useless.
Let’s be clear, pennies used to be practical back when you could actually buy something with a penny. In 2019 I challenge you to find anything you can buy for a cent. Not to mention it costs over 100 million dollars annually to produce pennies(Ingraham). These pennies also cost more then they are worth. For every penny produced it costs the mint 1.6 cents(Ingraham). Pennys are also incredibly polluting to make.
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Let’s start off with the issue of practicality. Pennys are heavy. It takes half a pound of pennies to have one dollar of currency. While with quarters, it only takes one twentieth of a pound to carry one dollar(US Mint). Because of this weight, pennies are very challenging to use in everyday situations. For example, if I want to buy one pack of 5 gum for 2.88, I would need around one point six pounds of pennies. This obviously is ridiculous.
Secondly, there is a lack of value. One hundred years ago pennies had a place in society. That same pack of gum would only cost nineteen cents(US Mint). All you would need is a dime, a nickel, and four pennies. Pennies one hundred years ago are worth 15 cents today. There is an obvious place for this currency back then because it was efficient. Now days, pennies are a burden on the modern American consumer.
Another point is the environmental impact the production of pennies have. In a green world pennies have no place. Pennies are made of two metals, zinc and copper. It takes approximately 10 megawatts to produce every tonne of copper produced(Donahue). That is enough energy to charge ten thousand iPhones for a year(Helman). Not to mention the carbon footprint of copper. It takes around 2.5 tonnes of carbon to output a single tonne of copper(Donahue). Copper mining is also known to cause other pollutants when being mined. The copper required to make these coins have an incredibly large footprint for such little value.
In Africa after a copper mine started operations near this village. They did not suspect anything. In fact it was seen as an economic opportunity for many. It did not take long for reality to set in though. The water slowly turned yellow and one villager stated, “We ate the fish and soon everyone started crying with stomach pains. I collapsed and was taken to a hospital”(Kappa). The native people with slowly poisoned with copper and its contaminants. This problem remains in the village today. The smell of the contaminants permeates the air for miles around the mine
The other metal involved is of course zinc. Zinc makes up the majority of the coin, 97.5% to be exact(US Mint). Zinc has a significantly smaller impact on the environment. It’s carbon footprint is 80% smaller and takes 83% less energy than copper(Donahue). The processing and purification of zinc is very wasteful. The biggest pollutant is contaminated liquid waste which contains traces of heavy metals. Zinc production also makes sodium oxide and carbon monoxide(Greenspec).
The cost of these useless coins is also important to keep in mind. Every penny that is produced costs around 1.6 cents(Ingraham). This is a loss of 0.6 cents per coin created. Annually, it costs the US Mint around 100 million dollars to keep pennies in circulation as well as make new ones(Donahue). This may seem like a small amount when we are talking about billions of dollars. This is true but it is still enough to turn heads. That one hundred million dollars could fund any number of helpful programs for taxpayers.
The US Mint has taken some action to reduce its carbon footprint. Many mints in the United States have stated that they intend to cut their carbon output by thirty three percent by 2020. A mint in Denver is even running on one hundred percent renewables currently(Donahue). This is a good first step to a sustainable future for America
I previously mentioned the story of Floribert Kappa, an African villager. Luckily, the mine was fined heavily and has cleaned up its act. The damage it caused though likely won’t heal for centuries. Regardless, health regulations that reduce the amount of pollutants that these refineries can produce have helped prevent this from happening to more towns. As tragic as this is, it seems that things are slowly getting better for them and other villages globally.
The US Mint has also tried to reduce the cost of each penny but found it impossible to make the raw materials cheaper. On the other hand they have become more efficient. The cost per penny dropped from 1.66 cents per penny to 1.43 cents per penny(Donahue). This efficiency will help save millions of dollars which can go towards funding education, rehabilitation, and other services to give back to the community in various ways. If we instead abolish the penny as a whole we can save tens of millions of dollars
This proposed legislation attacks the issues at its roots. It halts the production of these coins for the next decade which will save hundreds of millions of dollars. This money can go to numerous social benefit programs and other services to improve the lives of Americans. This legislation in a way stops a leaky tap. Sure it may not be a big deal to lose a few drops, but over time it adds up. This is the same with the cost of the pennies.
This bill also completely gets rid of any environmental issues the penny creates. Because this bill eliminates the penny itself, it also eliminates some demand for copper and zinc. This will reduce the demand for these metals which in turns should drop the amount of pollutants released. One of the zinc industries biggest buyers is the US Mint. Hopefully this will incentivize the industry to become cleaner and more efficient.
The bill also does not eliminate the use of pennies. They will still be spendable in everyday life. Instead it simply stops the production. So even if you’ve got a big jar of pennies, you need not to worry. It is all still real and spendable money for any transactions. The bill also includes a section in which collectible coins will still be manufactured. This is done by making the price of these collectibles set to the cost of production. This ensures that money is not lost when making these collector coins.
American taxpayers will no longer have to bear the burden of a coin that has long lost its usefulness. As I’ve said before, if this legislation gets passed in the congress it has the potential to reduce emissions, reduce costs, make retail transactions easier, and countless other benefits. This legislation lays out a simple framework for the United States government to follow. This is a no brainer way to save millions of dollars.
- Donahue, B. (2016, April 4). A penny for your thoughts? How About A Lot Of Pennies For The Environment? Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/sites/briandonahue/2016/04/04/a-penny-for-your-thoughts-how-about-a-lot-of-pennies-for-the-environment/?sh=6a8ed6c7317b
- Greenspec. (n.d.). Zinc Production - From Ore to Metal. Retrieved April 27, 2023, from https://www.greenspec.co.uk/building-design/zinc-roofs-cladding-production/
- Ingraham, C. (2018, May 17). It costs the U.S. Mint almost twice as much to make each penny and nickel as the coins are worth. The Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2018/05/17/it-costs-the-u-s-mint-almost-twice-as-much-to-make-each-penny-and-nickel-as-the-coins-are-worth/
- Kappa, F. (2017, November 13). Copper mining leaves people and land poisoned in Congo. Al Jazeera. https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2017/11/13/copper-mining-leaves-people-and-land-poisoned-in-congo/
- United States Mint. (n.d.). Coin Specifications. Retrieved April 27, 2023, from https://www.usmint.gov/coins/coin-specifications
- United States Mint. (2016, December 1). U.S. Mint’s Denver Facility Goes for Gold in Recycling. United States Mint. https://www.usmint.gov/news/inside-the-mint/us-mints-denver-facility-goes-for-gold-in-recycling
- United States Mint. (2019, December 19). 2019 United States Mint Annual Report. United States Mint. https://www.usmint.gov/learn/news-and-events/annual-reports
- United States Mint. (n.d.). FAQ - What is the weight of a penny? Retrieved April 27, 2023, from https://www.usmint.gov/learn/faq/what-is-the-weight-of-a-penny
- United States Mint. (n.d.). History of the Lincoln Cent. Retrieved April 27, 2023, from https://www.usmint.gov/coins/coin-medal-programs/circulating-coins/lincoln-cent/history
- United States Mint. (n.d.). Making cents: It costs 1.6 cents to make a penny and 7.7 cents to make a nickel. Retrieved April 27, 2023, from https://www.usmint.gov/news/making-cents-it-costs-16-cents-to-make-a-penny-and-77-cents-to-make-a-nickel