Spend your change

Posted by: Adam Aston on April 15, 2008

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Consider the surprising, enriching green potential of the change scattered under your couch, in your car seats, and sitting in that jar on your dresser. About $10 billion worth of change — a veritable hidden mountain of some 150 billion pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters — is sitting idle in various dark corners and forgotten pockets. Because this change isn’t circulating, it forces the US mint — which monitors and responds to coin shortages — to produce more new coins to meet demand.

So, why not just make better use of the ones we have? For those of you sitting on such coin caches, the reward of cashing in your change is a little like finding money in an old jacket. For the environment, the benefits are a nice surprise too. Coinstar, maker of those big coin counting machines found in many supermarkets and drug stores, estimates that if just 10% of the country’s dormant change were returned to circulation, that would amount to 15 billion coins and avoid the mining and refining of so much new copper (which used in all US coins) that:

* Water consumption savings equivalent to 82 million showers
* Primary energy consumption savings equal to 4.1 million 60-watt light bulbs
* Carbon emissions equal to taking 12,619 cars off the road for a year
* Waste material savings equal to 5.3 million pick-up truck loads

This doesn’t include the impact of other metals that wouldn’t need to be mined. To learn more surprising factoids about the eco benefits of your pocket change, check out Change For Our Earth, which is backed by Coinstar.

How to cash in? As an ex-paperboy who handled pocket-tearing loads of change and had to count and roll it all to turn into cash, today’s coin hoarders have no shortage of options. If you opt for cash back, Coinstar machines (click here to find a location) take a small cut out of any change you process. If you choose e-certificates — available from many major retailers such as Starbucks — the service is free. An alternative: many banks (such as Washington Mutual in the New York area) will sort your change for free.

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BusinessWeek correspondents John Carey and Mark Scott, cover the green scene, keeping on top of the business aspects of energy, the environment and climate change, as well as the technologies, policies, markets and people that are shaping how the earth's resources will be used in the century ahead.

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