Image of pennies

Pennies, it turns out, are more than just a minor annoyance taking up room in your change purse because spending them is generally more trouble than it’s worth. U.S. pennies a waste of money for the government to produce and an environmental hazard to boot. It’s for those reasons that Mike’s Bikes is no longer allowing pennies to be spent in its nine California stores.

Like all kids, I was a fan of pennies when I was young. Likely this was because they were the kind of money my parents were always willing to give me, no matter how young I was. After all, giving the kid a few cents lets them have money just like the adults and costs those adults pretty much nothing. But as I got older, I realized how annoying pennies are. They’re like so much dead weight in my pocket and as debit cards grew in popularity, my use for any coins dropped dramatically. Pennies pretty much fell off my radar.

Turns out that’s a good thing for the environment. Pennies are made of 97 percent zinc and 3 percent copper (The metal in each penny is worth 1.79 cents.) and most of that zinc is virgin so it’s mined directly out of the ground which is not an easy, cheap or clean process. For example, the Red Dog Mine in Alaskais the largest producer of zinc in the nation. It is by far number one on the EPA’s Toxic Release Inventory thanks to the large quantities of heavy-metal and lead rich mining tailings the process creates.

And we need a lot of zinc. In 2010, the United States Mint made more than 4 million billion pennies.

So maybe take a cue from Mike’s Bikes and cut your use of pennies. After all, are they really worth it?

Image courtesy Flickr user Marcin Wichary. Used under Creative Commons license.