One-cent coins: unpopular, polluting, expensive—but here to stay

Euros

One-cent euro coins are worth so little that governments lose money when they make them.

They’re worth so little, but cost so much more to make and transport, that retailers have to pay up to 100 cents for every 50 one-cent coins they buy.

Ordinary people are given one- and two-cent coins by retailers more often than they use them to buy things themselves.

Everybody living in the eurozone now owns on average 181 of these coins.

Lost cents, which are made of copper-plated steel, often end up in public land, household waste or incinerators, where they harm the environment.

A majority of eurozone citizens want one- and two-cent coins to be phased out.

And yet, there are no plans at present to scrap them.

All of this we know because an internal EU document setting it all out was published on 19 December.

As a result of inflation, one-cent coins are worth 28 per cent less today than when they were introduced in 2002, the document reports. In 2017, 64 per cent of people living in the eurozone said they wanted one- and two-cent coins to be phased out, and prices rounded up or down to the nearest 5 cents.

However, when EU governments last debated whether or not to scrap the coins, following an impact assessment in 2013, they decided not to. Now, the EU’s implementing body, the European Commission, has presented updated information to governments in case they want to change their minds.

Some individual countries have introduced mandatory or voluntary measures to encourage rounding, including Belgium, Finland, Italy and the Netherlands. However, rounding is not yet common in either Belgium or Italy.

Some fear that scrapping the coins will cause prices to rise. But, according to the report, “The experience of countries that limit the use of one- and two-euro cent coins for cash payments, such as Finland, the Netherlands or Ireland, confirms that the practice of rounding cash payments has had no measurable impact on consumer price inflation.”

And yet, for now, governments’ attention remains focused on combating counterfeiting of higher-value coins, rather than scrapping lower-value ones. This is despite there being only about 150,000 counterfeit coins in circulation—worth about €240,000—out of about 125 billion legitimate ones.

So, what to do with those 181 one- and two-cent coins that have gone missing down the back of your sofa cushions or are languishing in your sock draws? Think of the environment, and don’t bin them. Instead, maybe buy some sweets or teach your kids the good old-fashioned fun of coin-rubbing. Failing that, just leave them be.

Words: Craig Nicholson

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