Wake up daily to our latest coverage of business done better, directly in your inbox.


Get your weekly dose of analysis on rising corporate activism.

Select Newsletter

By signing up you agree to our privacy policy. You can opt out anytime.

Bill DiBenedetto headshot

Do Pennies Make Any Business or Environmental Sense?

Do Pennies Make Any Business or Environmental Sense?

Pennies from heaven don’t mean very much anymore, especially considering their costs to the environment and the expense of mining and minting them. With apologies to Abe Lincoln, Mike’s Bikes, a company with nine locations in California, has taken a solid stand against continued use of the venerable coin.

The company recently announced it is “letting go of Lincoln” by banning pennies in its stories. Its website explained, “The world we live in is the world we ride in. To help take good care of it, we have decided to eliminate pennies from our stores. For all cash transactions where pennies would have been used, we will be rounding down in favor of the customer to the nearest nickel.”

The are some very solid reasons for bidding the penny adieu, as 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. “Making pennies wastes taxpayer money - As of 2010, it cost 1.79 cents to make each 1 cent coin, meaning that taxpayers lost 0.79 of a cent for each of the 4 billion pennies the Mint produced that year; which represents a $32 million loss in 2010.

“Rounding down won't raise prices - At Mike’s Bikes, all transactions will be rounded in favor of the customer, so they will essentially function like a 1-4 cent discount on all cash transactions. Economists also have proved that eliminating the penny won't affect prices; we believe that the savings to the environment and the economy will more than compensate for the risk of any possible jump in prices. Pennies waste time and money - The average American wastes 12 hours a year handling pennies.

The National Association of Convenience Stores and Wallgreens estimate that handling pennies adds 2 to 2.5 seconds per cash transaction. By eliminating pennies, Mike's Bikes will save over $5K a year; rounding up to the customer's benefit allows us to share this saving with our customers. “Pennies are worth less than CA minimum wage - pennies are so worthless now that it doesn't even pay the California Minimum Wage of $8/hour to pick them up off the street.”

So much for the lucky penny theory. Retailers and other money handlers with a sustainable mind-set should heed and a follow the Mike’s Bikes lead. Sorry Abe, a “penny for your thoughts,” as the saying goes, no longer has any worthwhile meaning and the penny itself has long outlived its usefulness. No disrespect but you also grace the five-dollar bill, a slightly more valuable currency. Pennies are an expensive and environmentally wasteful nuisance. So let the nickel, featuring Thomas Jefferson’s features, become the new penny. It will be better for the environment and good for business.

Image credit: Unsplash

Bill DiBenedetto headshotBill DiBenedetto

Writer, editor, reader and generally good (okay mostly good, well sometimes good) guy trying to get by.

Read more stories by Bill DiBenedetto

More stories from Investment & Markets