How Money is Made
July 23, 2012 3:25 AM   Subscribe

What are the environmental impacts of printing paper money?

We spend so much of our time thinking about making money. But how is money made, really? What exactly does money come from -- what industries are responsible for its manufacturing, from logging companies harvesting trees for pulp, or cotton agriculture intensively farming cotton laden with pesticides?

How green is the making of the green -- in the synthetic ink of the dollar bill?

Thank you for your ideas. I am teaching a technical business writing class and my students are writing about the physical process of money-making. I also want them to think about the environmental consequences of this industry.
posted by Aleatoire to Writing & Language (7 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Crane makes the paper for US bills. On that website is a link that takes you to NOVA's page for "Anatomy of a $100 Bill" which gives some ideas -- but things like the ink and so on are secret. There's also a link to the US Bureau of Engraving, which has a page on The Production Process.
posted by Houstonian at 3:38 AM on July 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

DelaRue is a big player in the production of banknotes worldwide.

Page 33 of their report mentions some environmental stats. on their production processes.
posted by jacobean at 4:33 AM on July 23, 2012

Well, quite a few countries have moved to polymer banknotes. Australia was the first to move all its notes to be polymer. They apparently cost more than paper notes to make, but last four times as long. Securency is one of the polymer note production companies. Difference between polymer and paper is worth looking at in a discussion on currency production.
posted by AnnaRat at 4:46 AM on July 23, 2012

Probably less than you'd think in the grand scheme of things.

I've got two or three competing operations putting multiple big urban area type yellow pages on my porch ever year. A pile of one dollar bills that weighed as much as any of these would be somewhere in the neighborhood of $5000 - $10,000. Throw in some bigger bills and that's all the money I handle in a year and I do most of that virtually, with no physical cash ever changing hands.

Redundant yellow pages are a fraction of the worthless junk mail I receive.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 4:56 AM on July 23, 2012

What are the environmental impacts of printing paper money?

Minimal. There just isn't that much of it. I mean, it looks like a lot--the Bureau of Engraving and Printing made 5.8 billion notes last year--but it really isn't.

You can get four notes on something the size of a standard 8.5x11" sheet of paper. So right off that's like 1.45 billion sheets, ish. There are about 114 million households in the country. That's about thirteen sheets of paper a piece. You know that stupid RedPlum mailing you get in your mailbox every week? That's like twenty pages? It's apparently put out by Valassis, and it reaches 100 million households a week. So basically, a single junk mail sender uses more paper and ink every week than the BEP does all year.

Yes, the BEP is using higher quality paper and ink which presumably increases its environmental impact. But not by a factor of fifty, which is what it would need to be just to equal the resource consumption of Valassis by itself. Throw in all the other junk mail senders and the BEP doesn't even count as a rounding error.

Short version: the environmental impact of printing money isn't really worth fussing about. It's a tiny fraction of a percentage point when compared to other, less useful things we do.
posted by valkyryn at 6:05 AM on July 23, 2012 [2 favorites]

Note from the Nova link in Hustonian's post that there's no wood in paper money -- it's made entirely from cotton & linen ("Currency paper has a unique feel and is extremely durable. Is it really 'paper' in the traditional sense? There are no wood fibers or starch in currency paper. Instead, like high quality stationery, currency paper is composed of a special blend of cotton and linen fibers.") -- so obviously there's still plant matter involved, but there are no logging concerns.
posted by brainmouse at 8:44 AM on July 23, 2012

Currency paper is 75% cotton and 25% linen — no trees are cut to make it. Because of the need to make the paper as strong and durable as possible, this cotton and linen is virgin material, not recycled. But even so, the major ingredients are very renewable resources.

The materials used are byproducts of cotton processing and manufacturing that might otherwise go to waste. Referring to Crane's stationery paper, the company states: "Crane cotton comes from . . . 1. Fibers left on the seed after ginning. Called “linters,” they are removed from the cottonseed before extracting the seed oil. 2. Fibers recovered from the textile industry in the form of trimmings. Any dirt or impurities, or even a snipping of polyester thread, would compromise the paper. Crane’s standards are the highest anywhere." It is reasonable to assume that similar byproduct cotton and linen is used in the currency paper. (The linked document implies this is the case.)

And at the end of the lifecycle of currency paper, it is shredded and at least some of it is recycled for other purposes. The rest is shipped to a waste-to-energy firm and incinerated.

See also this detailed environmental info from Crane:

Green Since 1801 - Crane and Environmental Responsibility

Crane & Co. cotton papers are made with recovered tree-free fibers.

There are two main sources of these recovered fibers:

Cotton ginning waste: Only the longest, highest-quality fibers are used to manufacture textiles. After ginning and combing to isolate and remove these textile fibers, a great deal of waste fiber remains, which is of inferior quality and has no value to the textile industry. Crane papers are made using linters - the tiny fibers that adhere to the cotton seed after ginning, and must be removed in order to efficiently extract valuable cottonseed oil. Linters are almost pure alpha cellulose, the stuff of which paper is made. Trees are only about half cellulose. Millions of pounds of linters are used each year to make Crane papers. Otherwise, they would end up in landfills.

Textile cuttings: When garments are cut from cotton broadcloth, millions of pounds of trim waste are generated every year. Much of these trimmings are sent to landfills. As with linters, Crane has created infrastructures to collect these cotton garment trimmings for use in its papers. It is interesting to note that for centuries, cotton "rags" were the primary source of papermaking fiber. It wasn't until the late 1860s that most paper companies began cutting trees as their raw material. Crane continues to adhere to its 200-year tradition of using recovered tree-free fibers for its fine 100 percent cotton papers. Not only are these fibers environmentally responsible, they make a paper of superior quality.

Crane's recovered cotton fibers are bleached using a chlorine compound similar to Clorox, which means Crane's papers are classified Elemental Chlorine Free. Because of the purity of these fibers, there are no other chemicals to react with the bleach to produce dioxins or other toxic byproducts.

Purity of recovered cotton fibers also plays a role in the amount of waste generated in the papermaking process. Crane's recovered cotton fibers are almost 100 percent pure alpha cellulose - the purest form of cellulose for papermaking. Therefore, a minimum of waste is produced.

Because recovered cotton fibers are longer and stronger than almost all other papermaking fibers, when you recycled Crane papers, they actually enhance the quality of post-consumer paper.

Stationery Printing Inks
Crane uses only water-based engraving inks. Crane's thermographic inks are made with naturally renewable vegetable oils and lower vapor pressure solvents. They emit lower VOC's and minimize any potential negative impact to the environment.

The Company
In addition to making fine 100 percent cotton stationery, Crane makes paper for United States Currency. Currency is also made from recovered tree-free fibers - cotton and flax.

International Environmental Recognition
Crane was one of the first paper companies to attain ISO 14001 Environmental Management Systems certification. Crane's Environmental Department was first certified in 1998.

Crane purchases steam used for heating and papermaking from a nearby waste-to-energy facility that Crane helped get started more than 25 years ago. Using steam from waste replaces more than 2 million gallons of oil every year.

Crane is moving forward on the final design and permitting phase for a hydro-electric power plant at its Byron Weston Mill.

What organic waste is produced from papermaking at Crane is processed in Crane's own wastewater treatment facility. Crane was the first paper company in the US to construct such a facility - in 1959. Organic materials are mixed with lawn and garden waste and composted to make topsoil. The company's organic waste is also being evaluated as a feedstock for ethanol production.

posted by beagle at 8:45 AM on July 23, 2012

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