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Recycle your cents

It's Earth Day 2014 and the U.S. Mint is on track to strike 8 billion cents this year for use in circulation. That will be up over 14 percent from 2013.

That figure sounds like a lot, until one looks at mintages from years ago.

In the year 2000, the U.S. Mint turned out almost 14.3 billion cents. Will we ever see a return to such a high level again?

Looking at the mintage totals for 2009, the most recent low point, the Mint cranked out just 2.4 billion cents.

That year the economy was in severe recession, the worst since World War II, and demand for cents dropped.

Also, conditions were so dire for so many unemployed workers that they were forced to take whatever coins they had accumulated in their bureau drawers to help pay the bills.

This coin version of recycling caused demand for new coins to drop dramatically, which undermined the issuance of 2009 Lincoln bicentennial designs.

Mintages of the four designs were so low that most Americans still don’t know they were ever made.

The slide in production from 14.3 billion to 2.4 billion was an amazing 83 percent.

Such is the power of coin recycling.

Americans have been trained every Earth Day since 1970 to recycle, yet we do a terrible job with coins.

In ordinary times, Americans get coins in change, take them home and there they sit for months or years on end.

So the Mint has to make more cents to provide to the Federal Reserve to place into the banking system to give the merchants the cents they need to make change that we then collectively take home.

The rising cent mintage number seems to indicate we are returning, though slowly, to our pre-crisis ways. Because of our behavior, and despite the best efforts of coin counting machine manufacturers like Coinstar, it is cheaper to make new cents for use in daily commerce than it is to recycle the cents that already exist.

Strange, isn’t it?

When you think about recycling, don’t forget to recycle your cents – and your other coins for that matter.

Buzz blogger Dave Harper is winner of the 2013 Numismatic Literary Guild Award for Best Blog and is editor of the weekly newspaper "Numismatic News."