Hoarding loose change – a green no-no?

A reader pointed out to me today that hoarding coins, something that most of us do I guess, has a negative impact on the environment. I’d never really given it any thought, but it was certainly an interesting point.

Generally speaking, coins have a very long functional life span compared to notes – around 30 years according to the United States Mint. When we hoard coins, it prevents them from being in circulation, so more coins need to be minted to make up for the shortfall – which means more metal and energy is consumed.

A few bucks worth of loose change here and a few bucks there couldn’t really add up to all that much could it? Curiosity piqued, I decided to look into it a little more.

According to the research I was able to do, in Ireland, approximately $60 million of coins are being hoarded. In the UK it’s somewhere in the region of three quarters of a billion dollars worth! I wasn’t able to locate hoarding estimations in other nations, but in some countries it’s become a massive problem. India is currently suffering a critical shortage of coins; to the point that shopkeepers are resorting to getting change from street beggars in order to keep their businesses running.

To get some idea of how much metal is needed to keep coins at appropriate levels for circulation, here’s some statistics from the United States Mint for January 2007 through June 2007 coin production, plus some of my own metal tonnage estimations:

1c – Copper Plated Zinc – 4700.40 million – 2.500 g = ~ 11750 tons
5c – Cupro-Nickel – 792.96 million – 5.000 g =  ~ 3960 tons
10c – Cupro-Nickel – 1269.00 million – 2.268 g = ~ 3400 tons
25c – Cupro-Nickel – 1559.44 million – 5.670 g = ~ 8839 tons  
50c – Cupro-Nickel – 4.80 million – 11.340 g = ~   45 tons

Total – nearly 28,000 tons of coin metal; just for the USA, just for 6 months – wow!

How much of the above metal is reclaimed material vs. new metal or the level of production is directly attributable to making up for coin hoarding related shortfall, I really have no idea.

For every ton of nickel or copper mined, 400-600 tonnes of waste material is produced. Many thousands of acres of landscapes and waterways have been ruined by the nickel and copper mining industry. Refining and smelting metals is also energy intensive and various environmental toxins are created in the process; for example, nickel sulfide (carcinogenic) and nickel carbonyl (extremely toxic gas).

So there’s our green tip for the day – don’t hoard loose change, keep the coins in circulation to lessen demand for new metal and reduce energy consumption required to produce new coins. Every little bit helps I guess! :).