US Coins

The ‘hidden costs’ of striking the Lincoln cent

Familiar to consumers and numismatists, Lincoln cents have been composed of 97.5 percent zinc and 2.5 percent copper since 1982. The environmental impact of mining the metals and producing the coins has serious environmental impact.

Images courtesy of the U.S. Mint.

Most recent studies suggest that the Lincoln cent is wasteful. Contemporary analyses suggest that it costs several times a cent’s face value to produce, and most consumers find them a nuisance. But is there a hidden cost behind the continued production of the cent? Climate scientists think so. 

According to an article published by the Smithsonian and research by students at the University of California Davis, production of the cent produces considerable greenhouse gas emissions and other toxic waste. 

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The current cent’s alloy, 95 percent zinc plated with 5 percent copper requires mining both materials in massive quantities. Each ton of copper produced releases 2.45 tons of carbon dioxide, one of the gases that causes climate change, and each ton of zinc produced releases .58 tons of the same, according to the scientists. 

According to the researchers, given that the U.S. Mint’s annual production of cents requires 21,888 tons of zinc and 562 tons of copper, just the mining of the metals used in cents alone releases an enormous amount of carbon dioxide. Eighty-six percent of copper mined for “consumer products” (appliances, ammunition, electronics, the cent, and more) goes toward producing 1-cent coins, according to the scientists.

Zinc production also produces hazardous materials, including sulfuric acid and sulfur dioxide, both of which have serious adverse environmental and health effects. 

Though Mint facilities are making strides to be more energy-efficient (the Denver Mint is completely wind-powered and the Mint committed to reducing its emissions by 33 percent by 2020), the presses used to strike coins consume lots of electricity as well.

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