Time to Ditch the Penny; It Is Useless and Bad for the Environment

Large pile of pennies

Aaron Sollner / Getty Images

Jeff recently asked, "should we ban the penny to help the environment?" As the things pile up in jars all over our house, I wonder why we bother having them at all, and I was curious how bad they could be environmentally . According to Triple Pundit, Mikes Bikes, a bike store chain in California is no longer taking pennies. The store explains:

Making pennies wastes natural resources and is toxic to people and the environment - Pennies are 3 percent copper, and 97 percent zinc and are primarily made from virgin ore. Making pennies from zinc and copper means mining for those materials. Red Dog Mine, which is the largest zinc mine in the U.S. is by far the #1 polluter on the EPA's list, because of large quantities of heavy-metal and lead rich mining tailings. The process of refining both metals can release sulfur dioxide (SO2), lead and zinc into the environment.

There were 4,010,830,000 pennies made in the United States last year; each one weighs 2.5 grams, so that's a thousand tonnes of zinc to be mined. According to ilo.org, Zinc concentrate is produced by separating the ore, which may contain as little as 2% zinc, from waste rock by crushing and flotation, a process normally performed at the mining site. According to the Northern Alaska Environmental Center,

The Red Dog Mine is the world's largest zinc mine with a long history of illegal mining waste pollution which enters the Wulik River system, approximately 40 miles upstream of Kivalina. The Wulik River is Kivalina's drinking water source and an important source of subsistence fish, including Arctic Grayling, dolly varden, and salmon.

Zinc is useful stuff, used in galvanizing metal, building materials, and many products that we use every day. But it is crazy to move 50,000 tons of rock to get a thousand tonnes of zinc to make something that we barely use, that piles up in jars and bowls, and actually costs 1.79 cents to make. It really is time to ditch the penny. What do you think?