Pennies are close to worthless, unless you have jars full of them — and even then you'd need about 2.3 kilograms (almost five pounds) worth to make $10; a lot of people would struggle to lift $100 worth using two hands, while $1,000 in pennies would fill the trunk of a car and weighs about the same as a snowmobile.
And so pennies get thrown into the garbage or vacuumed up because it's not worth the effort to pick them up. They get pushed back over store counters, or plunked into "Take a Penny, Leave a Penny" trays, tip jars, or donation boxes (although fewer donation boxes than before as most non-profits are realizing that the time and cost of processing all that small change outweighs the benefits).
The Government of Canada, via the Royal Canadian Mint, has stamped out over 32 billion pennies since Confederation, about six billion of which are still in circulation. But the era of the penny officially comes to an end this Feb. 4. Banks will accept pennies but won't hand them out any more, and all cash transactions everywhere will be rounded up or down to the nearest $0.05.
A transaction for $1.02 will be rounded down to $1 and a transaction of $1.03 will be rounded up to $1.05. Electronic transactions are exempt from rounding.
The Whistler Chamber of Commerce has kept Whistler retailers informed about the change in newsletters, providing a link so retailers can get more information.
Because some transactions round up and others round down, there's expected to be no net loss for businesses. As well, Canada is already among the leading nations for non-cash transactions with only about 32 per cent of transactions using cash in 2011.
The decision to do away with the penny was made in July 2012, and is eventually expected to save the government $11 million a year in production costs. Currently the cost of making a penny — labour, materials and distribution is 1.6 cents.
There are some costs associated with phasing out the penny for the first few years. The federal government will spend around $60 million redeeming six million pennies 2018, plus another $20 million in administrative costs. Some $42 million will be raised by selling the metal — mostly steel, but also copper, zinc, tin, etc. — for scrap, for a total cost of $38 million.
However, when you factor in the $11 million in annual savings, Canada still comes out ahead. Costs will be high the first few years, but averaged out over the next six years the savings will be around $4 million a year.
Any bank will accept pennies as legal tender providing they're rolled up, and some banks have change counters that people can use for a fee (usually around 10 per cent) or that are free for members. As well, banks are providing their clients with bags that they can fill up and exchange for $25.
Nick MacDonald, the manger of customer service for TD Canada Trust in Whistler, said they haven't seen a large influx of customers asking for penny bags or bringing in jars of change, but they're prepared for it.
"We get lots of questions about it, but we're not seeing tonnes of pennies coming in," he said. "TD Canada Trust head office is telling us what to expect and what we're going to do, and on Feb. 4 we are going to start rounding — we're able to take pennies in but we're not going to be giving them out.
"When customers come in and have it explained to them, I think they may start emptying their change jars and bringing them in."
Although the bank does accept rolled coins, MacDonald suggests using the coin bags to save time.
Some thoughts for your pennies:
• Pennies are not made out of copper any more, which is far too valuable a metal for coins. Since 2000, Canadian pennies have been 94 per cent steel, 1.5 per cent nickel and 4.5 per cent copper as plating. From 1997 to 1999 pennies were mostly made of zinc, which is also too valuable. Pennies from 1996 and earlier are about 98 per cent copper.
• The two maple leafs on the back of pennies minted after 1937 are accompanied by the initials KG, which stands for British designer G.E. Kruger Gray.
• Pennies are also called "cent" pieces, after the French for "hundred." However, in Quebec pennies are sometimes called "sous," slang for a small coin of little value.
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