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Where US Currency Goes to Die

 

by Justin Rohrlich
Minyanville
Jun 03, 2011 6:24 pm 

Available on minyanville.com

 

 

According to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, $1 bills have a lifespan of approximately 21 months. $100 bills, on the other hand, last an average of seven years.

5 lb bag of shredded moneySo, what happens when an "unfit" bill is taken out of circulation?  After all, there are only so many novelty items the consumer market can bear:

Mike Paciello of SEM Data Destruction Products and Services in Westboro, Massachusetts, tells Minyanville that the US government destroys old money in new, green ways.

"80% of our business comes from the federal government," he says. "Our machines are not only used by the Federal Reserve, but by central banks in countries all over the world."

Money shredding is obviously quite a bit more involved than the process one might use to get rid of a MasterCard statement or a cellphone bill.

"Years ago, currency that was taken out of circulation got burned," Paciello says. "But they don't do that anymore because the inks used in the printing process may be harmful to the environment."

A 1994 New York Times article noted that the Fed was experimenting with ways to lessen the impact of discarded cash.

"Horse breeders tried to use the cast-off currency as bedding but abandoned the idea when the chemicals in the old money caused skin rashes on the horses," reporter Calvin Sims wrote. "Efforts were also made to use the shredded currency as insulation, mattress filling and 'drilling mud' for oil exploration, but again the material was not suitable."

Though most shredded currency goes into landfills, Paciello says SEM's "briquetting" technology has made the process far greener than in the past.

"Instead of being left with a huge mound of loose material after the money goes through the shredder, the briquetting machine compresses everything and spits out what looks like a big pellet, about two inches in diameter by five or so inches long," explains Paciello. "This reduces the volume of waste by a 9-to-1 ratio and significantly reduces landfill dependency."

Money BrickSEM's government customers extend beyond the Federal Reserve and currency destruction -- and waste from these agencies can actually be used as fuel.

"The same briquetting machine is used for standard paper as well, which gives it a burn value that's actually close to soft coal," Paciello says. "When we destroy documents for the CIA, FBI, DoD, the information we're dealing with is so sensitive, it has to be brought  down to NSA standards to comply with national security regulations -- that means particles so small, it's almost like a fine dust."

At that size, "no information can be gleaned" from any of the materials. However, it's also too powdery to burn -- until the bruiquettor has its way with the formerly top secret information.

"We have several major military installations that still use some coal-fired furnaces on their campuses," Paciello says. "They can augment the coal by co-mingling it with wastepaper briquettes, meaning lower emissions and a little less pressure on how much coal gets used."

Paciello makes sure to make one final point about money shredding by the Fed perfectly clear.

"The Federal Reserve doesn't destroy money," he says. "They destroy banknotes. Don't ever call it money."