Hey US Mint, Why Not Let Scrap Recyclers Sell Back Mutilated Coins?

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We’ve previously written about how the U.S. government now pays more than a penny for the zinc required to make one penny, so when we saw this, it was a natural follow-up.

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In a letter this week to U.S. Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew and U.S. Mint Principal Deputy Director Rhett Jeppson, Institute of Scrap Recycling industries President Robin Wiener requested that the Mint reconsider its blanket moratorium on the repurchase of mutilated coins. ISRI requested an opportunity to meet with the appropriate representatives of the Mint and the Treasury to discuss this matter in further detail, too.

"Men, the real money is in selling zinc to the Mint to make nickels and pennies." Source: Adobe Stock/Bonzodog.

“Men, the real money is in selling zinc to the Mint to make nickels and pennies. not this smelting stuff. ” Source: Adobe Stock/Bonzodog.

Mutilated coins, such as the ones between the seat cushions of your old car that you’ve taken to get scrapped or even the pennies you placed on train tracks as a kid, could be a real boon to scrap yard recycler/operators. As scrap, they’re already cheaper than that more-than-penny-zinc the Mint buys to make new pennies and nickels. “The moratorium is having a significant detrimental impact on U.S.-based recyclers who, suffering from low prices and very slim margins for several years, are now facing additional financial difficulty because of their inability to redeem the mutilated coins they have in inventory,” ISRI said in a statement.

The business of collecting and reselling mutilated coins to the U.S. Mint started when recyclers would find those loose coins that had fallen to the ground during processing and recylcing old cars, vending machines, and other products would get crushed with the coins in them. Somewhere there’s a few quarters and numerous pennies between the cushions of the Ford Falcon Club Wagon I drove in high school. The loyal old Club Wagon was eventually scrapped for the princely sum of $350 and I just hope that the recycler recovered those quarters and pennies.

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The business evolved with advances in sorting technology and the advent of new machinery capable of identifying very small items. As a result, the ability to purposefully recover coins in significant quantities grew quickly, and became an integral part of many recycling companies’ operations and product lines. I still think it had something to do with the railroad tracks and all of those flat pennies.

Sure, there were some unscrupulous people out there abusing the program and that’s what caused the moratorium in the first place but, surely, a compromise can be reached. Why let the bad apples ruin it for everybody? Or, in this case, the fake pennies?

“While ISRI fully supports enforcement activities against those companies that abuse the redemption program through the attempted sale of counterfeit coins, there is no need for a blanket moratorium that effectively punishes all those who legitimately rely on the program for their ongoing businesses,” Wiener said.

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Letting the U.S. Mint buy back its mutilated coins would reduce government demand for zinc as a raw material for new coins. We, the taxpayers, lost $105 million from the Mint’s zinc purchases for pennies and nickels in 2013, alone, so, honestly, could the scrap recyclers do any worse?

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