How much does it really cost (the planet) to make a penny?
How much does it really cost (the planet) to make a penny? Pennies are often found, forgotten on the sidewalk. (Thinkstock)
How much does it really cost (the planet) to make a penny?
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Ah, the lowly penny, the one-cent coin graced by Lincoln's face, often is fountain fodder and city litter. Kids love to fill their piggy banks with them. Untold billions are in collection jars and other forgotten places.
 
Most people know that pennies cost the government more to make than they're worth. They may not know that making all those pennies has a serious environmental impact.
 
With that in mind, is it possible to make the penny greener?
 
Christina Cogdell is an associate professor of design at the University of California Davis. She asks her students to parse out each material comprising a particular product. Two years ago, three of her students chose the penny.
 
Christine Knobel, Nicole Tan and Darin Reyes spent a semester analyzing the information they could find to make an assessment of the penny's ecological footprint. Their conclusion?  The true cost of making a penny adds up to much more than 1.43 cents.
 
The Mint itself has tried to find out if making coins out of different metals might make them cheaper to produce. But it concluded, that for the penny, "there are no alternative metal compositions that reduce the manufacturing unit cost of the penny below its face value." This is according to a 2014 report to Congress.
 
Each Mint facility conducts monthly environmental compliance audits. Each Mint aims to reduce direct emissions by 33 percent by 2020. The Denver Mint is already 100 percent wind-powered. And the stamping presses now have a sleep mode to reduce power consumption when not in use.  
 
Between weak economic demand and environmental impacts, nearly a dozen countries have concluded that the penny's not worth it. Canada abolished its penny in 2012, joining countries including Australia, Brazil, Finland, New Zealand, Norway and Israel.
 
The Mint has made pennies of 98.5 percent zinc and 2.5 percent copper since 1982.
 
Jarden Zinc Products is the sole company that produces penny blanks for the U.S. Mint to stamp into finished coins. The company declined to comment on any aspect of its production or the sourcing of their metal other than to say it is "all completely recyclable." This is according to Mark Blizard, the company's vice president of coinage sales. A company product sheet states the zinc is "mined, processed and formed in America."  It described the zinc as coming from Tennessee mines owned and managed by Nyrstar. Yet Nyrstar company representatives assert that Jarden is not one of their clients and has no direct connection with the penny-making process.
 
Adding to the confusion, the Mint itself reported in 2014 that the zinc comes from Canada.
 
Pennies made up 56 percent of the Mint's production run last year.
 
In 2014, the Mint produced 8.15 billion one-cent coins. That's 22,450 tons of pennies. It equates to 21,888 tons of zinc and 562 tons of copper. The same year, 651 tons of copper was used to make "consumer products." That means 86 percent of the copper destined for consumer products was used just for pennies. For zinc, the percentage is smaller. It is 2 percent of the 1.1 million tons of refined zinc consumed in 2014.
 
Getting all that ore out of the ground is costly. The mining cost includes carbon dioxide emissions, pollutants and power consumed. A 2009 analysis found that Western copper mines use 35.7 gigajoules of energy per ton of copper produced. Zinc and lead mines are fairly more efficient. They use 6.6 to 6.8 gigajoules of energy per ton.
 
Copper mines, located mostly in Arizona, tend to be of the open-pit variety. This allows more substances to be released. Zinc mines can be open or closed.
 
Here's what zinc must go through before it is pure enough to be lacquered with copper and punched into a coin. Mining involves blasting and chipping zinc-containing sphalerite ores away from the surrounding limestone, then crushing and processing the ores in chemical baths that separate the zinc from other minerals. At the smelter, raw zinc is roasted to remove sulfides, then sent through a leaching and purification process.
 
The main byproducts of this process include sulfuric acid and sulfur dioxide. Mercury is another impurity removed during this process.
 
After being rolled out to the proper thickness, coins are stamped out into circles called planchets, which are polished and then electroplated with pure copper. Shipped to the U.S. Mint in either Denver or Philadelphia, die presses stamp Abraham Lincoln's likeness and a federal shield onto either side of the coin with 35 tons of force. After inspection, coins are trucked to one of 12 Federal Reserve banks.
 
Despite the fact that the United States recycled 71.8 million tons of metal in 2013, not a single penny made today is recycled, at least by the Mint. Nor are any coins at the moment.
 
Pennies have an estimated 25-year life span. People do try to "recycle" them. The company known for its green-and-white coin-collecting kiosks, Coinstar, processed more than 18.5 billion pennies in 2015, which are all eventually deposited with banks, said Susan Johnston, a representative of the company.
 
So if the penny can't be made greener, why not get rid of it entirely?
 
Former Arizona congressman Jim Kolbe introduced three bills from 1989 to 2006 to try and get the government to ditch its smallest denomination.
 
But, plenty of people are fine with the penny. For some, its chief value is sentimental. Others worry that customers will suffer if prices get rounded up rather than down.
 
There's one group that really wants to keep the penny around. Jarden Zinc Products. Their current contract with the Mint is valued at $425 million, according to Mint spokesman Michael White.
 
For Knobel, the answer seems clear. Economically as well as environmentally, it makes sense to get rid of the penny.
 
"After doing the research, it became clear that the penny isn't needed," she said. "If the Mint is trying to reduce energy, why not reduce it by a whole coin?"

Source URL: https://www.tweentribune.com/article/tween78/how-much-does-it-really-cost-planet-make-penny/

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CRITICAL THINKING QUESTION
Why does the U.S. continue to mint pennies?
Write your answers in the comments section below


COMMENTS (20)
  • zeusr-3-bar
    6/09/2016 - 06:59 p.m.

    The user continues to mint pennies because they are essential to our daily lives.
    So even worry that people will argue if the prices increase instead of decrease.

  • lucasddd-3-bar
    6/09/2016 - 10:53 p.m.

    The U.S continues to mint pennies because of how easy it is to mint then and how long they last. The article says "Pennies have an estimated 25-year life span." This is longer then many other coins, meaning they can be used by people for longer periods of time before becoming useless.
    I think we should stop making pennies, because I do not think they help the economy.

  • raymunda-4-bar
    6/10/2016 - 12:28 a.m.

    The is still continuing to me pennies because Americans would think it would be bad for the economy, and make the economy crash, and it will turn America, into an un-America. People would be so disappointed and "plenty of people are fine with the penny. For some, its chief value is sentimental. Others worry that customers will suffer if prices get rounded up rather than down." (Paragraph 23, Michelle Z. Donahue) This shows that, even though Americans know that pennies are worthless, it is fun to have and think it will hurt the economy.

    This article is interesting because I never know what pennies are made of, and now I know that it isn't really made out if copper. What shocked me the most is that pennies are worth more than they are now! I mean if you have one million pennies, maybe it's worth 2 million dollars instead!

  • maxwellc-3-bar
    6/10/2016 - 01:16 a.m.

    The US Mint continues to make pennies because "There's one group that really wants to keep the penny around. Jarden Zinc Products. Their current contract with the Mint is valued at $425 million," according to Mint spokesman Michael White. Also, the text says people want to keep the penny as it represents "sentimental value" to them. On this decision, I could go either way, because I grew up with the penny and would be sad to see it go, but also I think the government should not make a currency just because one company pays them off.

  • justiny-2-bar
    6/10/2016 - 09:53 a.m.

    The US still continues to mint pennies because many prices end with 99 cents. Also the penny has a sentimental value for some people. I found this article interesting and surprising that many people want to get rid of the penny.

  • keewon0801-byo
    6/27/2016 - 04:39 p.m.

    U.S continues to mint pennies because many think pennies have a symbolic value to USA. I'm not sure but I think pennies were the first metal coin in U.S. I'm not sure but in my opinion i would keep the pennies. I like pennies, i rather HAVE pennies then just having silver coins. I like this "story" but however I was shocked when I figured out people wanted to get rid of pennies. I seriously was shocked.

  • wcarsyn-dav
    8/25/2016 - 02:05 p.m.

    In response to "How much does it really cost (the planet) to make a penny?," I agree that the penny should be eliminated. One reason I agree is that pennies cost more to make than there worth. The penny itself is worth 1 cent, but the cost to make a penny is 1.43 cents. Another reason is that the production of the penny in the U.S. leaves a negative impact on the environment. According to the article," the true cost of making a penny adds up to much more than 1.43 cents." The third reason is that we simply do not need pennies anymore. The article says that "it makes sense to get rid of the penny" and that "the penny isn't needed." Even though some people may argue that the penny is important to the history of the U.S., I believe that the benefits of the penny aren't enough to justify the impact the penny has on the environment.

  • fblake-dav
    8/25/2016 - 09:44 p.m.

    In response to "Why does the U.S. continue to mint pennies," I agree that the U.S. should stop making pennies. One reason I agree is that it cost over $1,43 to make one penny. That's a waste of money. Another reason is that we are wasting metal when we make all of these pennies. It says in the article making pennies equals to 21,888 tons of zinc and 562 tons of copper. In the same year, 651 tons of copper was used to make "consumer products." That means 86 percent of the copper used for consumer products was used just for pennies. A third reason the pennies are not recyclable so they are not environmentally friendly. Even though people still like to use the penny, I think we are wasting money, metals, and adding to the pollution problem in the world.

    By Michelle Z. Donahue. "How Much Does It Really Cost (the Planet) to Make a Penny?" Smithsonian Tween Tribune. N.p., 7 June 2016. Web. 25 Aug. 2016. <http://www.tweentribune.com/article/tween78/how-much-does-it-really-cost-planet-make-penny/>.

  • jerriqh-bla
    9/15/2016 - 10:26 a.m.

    The U.S. mint still creates pennies because some people are still fine with the penny. For others, its chief value is sentimental. The rest worry that customers will suffer if the if prices get rounded up rather than down. I think the U.S. mint should keep producing pennies because what are we going to use for taxes?

  • ybailey-dav
    9/22/2016 - 07:27 p.m.

    In response to "How much does it really cost (the planet) to make a penny" I agree that the penny should be demolished. One reason I agree is that it costs way over a penny to make a penny, so you aren't even making a profit from penny's, your loosing more than you make. Another reason is that penny's are bad for the environment, so your not only losing money your harming the environment. In the article it also says " After doing the research, it became clear that the penny isn't needed." That sentence shows that researchers conclude that there is no purpose for the penny. Even though penny's are wanted by some groups because it's sentimental, I think that the penny should definitely be demolished.

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