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Americans throw away $62 million in coins each year

Talk about getting nickel and dimed: Americans are losing $62 million a year by tossing coins in the trash.

That’s an estimate from recycling and waste management company Covanta Holding Corp. (CVA), which says that the coins are probably tossed accidentally, thanks to high-powered vacuums that suck up the money while cleaning couch cushions, car seats, and other nooks and crannies. Covanta said it can’t say whether Americans are tossing out more coins than in previous years, since it’s in the early stages of its program to recover those discarded coins.

Americans have a love-hate relationship with at least one coin: the lowly penny. While it once was a common sight to see people picking up pennies off the ground -- with the idea that it could be a lucky penny or simply add a little extra cash to your wallet -- pennies dropped in value to the point where some people debate whether it’s worth the time to pick one up. Still, what is one person’s chump change can end up being another’s fortune.

“We find a whole range of coins from the penny, to dollar and half-dollar coins,” Covanta spokesman James Regan said in an email. He added that the company bases its $62 million estimate on finding 25 cents in each ton of waste, with about 250 million tons of garbage sent to the landfill each year.

Covanta’s business sorts out metals from trash, with everything from coins to iron extracted from its recovery efforts at 45 waste-to-power plants across the world, relying on powerful magnets and other equipment to pull metals out of the garbage, according to Bloomberg News.

Yet while Covanta is making money by selling extracted metals, it’s hit a snag with its efforts to make money from reclaimed coins. The U.S. Mint stopped buying back coins last year after some sellers were suspected of selling counterfeited coins.

“Due to the suspension of the U.S. Mint buyback, we are stockpiling and evaluating alternatives such as cleaning and sorting the coins and returning them into the U.S. banking system,” Covanta’s Regan said.

In the meantime, Covanta isn’t the only outfit making a profit on loose change. The Transportation Security Administration collected $675,000 in spare change left by travelers in 2014. If no one claims the money, the TSA is permitted to keep it, with the funds going toward paying for security operations.