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Digging a fortune in coins out of America's trash

Plus, a graduation mishap goes viral.

Welcome to PA Local, a free weekly newsletter about the great people, amazing places, and delicious food of Pennsylvania.
Your Postmaster: Tanisha Thomas

May 18, 2024

Inside this edition: Coin catchers, festival updates, rescue pups, famous babies, family grads, and bad with names. Thanks for checking in.

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A Pennsylvania-centric trivia question.
O.J. Simpson was originally eyed as the star of George Romero’s Monroeville Mall-shot Dawn of the Dead. True or false?
(Keep scrolling for the answer, but don't miss all the good stuff in between. Like what you read? Forward this email to a friend.)
Our five favorite Pennsylvania stories of the week.
» Two concert updates worth sharing: Pittsburgh’s new music festival Sudden Little Thrills is canceled. If you’re looking for a fallback, Kesha and Ne-Yo are headlining July's Wawa Welcome America fest.
» Two good dogs worth cheering: A dog found its forever home after being abandoned in Philly with a sign reading “good puppy ... don't have a name.” In Erie, a rescue pup has gone from shelter to Westminster.
» Two names worth knowing: Punxsutawney Phil and Phyllis' twin babies have names: Sunny and Shadow. Pretty on-brand for the Punxsutawney household, right? A contest crowned the winners.
» Two graduates worth celebrating: A Linglestown mother and daughter were able to celebrate one of the biggest moments of their lives together — graduating from Penn State University.  
» One blooper reel worth seeing: Thomas Jefferson University issued an apology after its presenter went viral on social media for mispronouncing nursing school graduates' names last week. 
🤔 NEXT QUESTION: Are you on top of the news? Prove it with the latest edition of the Great PA News Quiz: McCormick's term limit vow, 'scandalous' conduct, and stunning solar weather.
The top stories published by Spotlight PA this week.
» Shapiro 'scandalous' conduct edict raises alarms
» Super Bowl tix, luxury stay among lawmaker perks
» Sticking points loom as budget talks begin
» A $5.6M plan to get more dairy farmers risk insurance
» Will State College consider consolidation again?
» Rare guv support in a compassionate release case
Dirty coins in a gloved hand.
A coin salvaged from trash in Bucks County. (Courtesy of Reworld)

More than $60 million worth of coins are thrown out every year in America, according to a company that’s going to great lengths to find them at its waste-management facility in Bucks County.

There’s a chance a coin you’ve trashed — likely by accident — has been dug up like treasure at Reworld’s Morrisville plant, the subject of a recent Wall Street Journal profile that also covers the diminished relevance of metal money and this fun fact: It costs the U.S. government more than 3 cents to make a single penny. 

Reworld says it’s recovered $10 million in coins — about $6 million of that still usable — from American garbage since launching the program in 2017.

Here’s how it works: Incinerated trash from as far away as Hawaii is shipped to the facility and sifted and sorted there. Machines separate items that have the color of a coin, the shape of a coin, or the weight of a coin. Then workers dig through the filtered scraps by hand. 

PA Local spoke with Reworld’s director of communications, Nicolle Robles, by email to learn more about the process, the legality of maiming U.S. currency, the rarer finds, and more.

The exchange has been edited for clarity and length.

PA Local: Are there any laws against mangling or destroying coins that your company must navigate?

Robles: The coins are just part of the municipal garbage stream, so they are not damaged with any ill intent. It is a byproduct of the waste processing process. (Editor's note: "Fraudulent" intent is a key component of the law against altering, defacing, or mutilating U.S. coins.)

PA Local: Where exactly is the trash you’re sifting through coming from? What’s the geographic spread? Is it possible to specify?

Robles: The trash comes from our nearly 40 thermomechanical treatment facilities that are spread across North America. They span from Hawaii to New York.

PA Local: Are some coins more easily damaged in the process?

Robles: Any damage to coins occurs at our thermomechanical treatment facilities … Lighter, thinner coins are likely more susceptible to damage.

A vast number of coins come to us undamaged to the tune of almost $1 million every year, but a lot do become damaged because they are mixed in with regular municipal garbage — think the type of garbage you are throwing out in your kitchen bin at home.

Historically, we have redeemed the damaged coins with the U.S. Mint. The Mint has suspended the program for multiple years because they were concerned about internal resource challenges and counterfeit coins coming in from overseas. (Editor's note: The feds point to cases like this.)

To our knowledge, there is no evidence of significant amounts of counterfeit coins being submitted for redemption, and the coins we collect come from your household waste. 

At the same time, the Federal Reserve has published a report about the lack of coins in the market. We look forward to working with these agencies to allow them to keep up with the demand.

PA Local: What happens to the coins after you recover them?

Robles: We use a third party to collect the coins and send them back into the U.S. banking system. We do not have any information on the exact locations of where the coins eventually are placed.

PA Local: Is there any advice you have for people who are looking to reduce the amount of coins they are losing to the trash?

Robles: Be conscious of what you are throwing away, especially when doing your spring cleaning. We believe most of the coins we receive aren’t thrown away on purpose, but instead are mixed in between your sofa cushions or in your junk drawers. It all adds up! 

With the rise of contactless payment methods, we thought there would have been a drop off in the number of coins we receive, but that is not the case. The facility sees a steady stream of coins with no signs of it slowing down.

PA Local: What are the rarest coins you've found?

Robles: Do Chuck E. Cheese tokens count? We do not expressly seek out “rare” coins. They are few and far between, and likely damaged.

Tanisha Thomas, newsletter writer

Wall Street Journal subscribers can read its full report on Reworld here

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A quote from a Pennsylvanian that we found interesting this week.
“I definitely stand out.”
Singer and former One Direction member Zayn Malik on what it’s like living in Bucks County
Our favorite reader-submitted photo of the week.
Hiking Hartley Wood in State College, via Amy Z. Send us your photos by email, use #PAGems on Instagram, or tag @spotlightpennsylvania.
several tall trees with scattered leaves on their branches and on the ground
The answer to this week's Pennsylvania-centric trivia question.

The answer is "True."

An early idea for the plot of Dawn of the Dead was pitched to a film distributor that asked if O.J. Simpson could be the star. Director George Romero balked at the idea, according to a display in the Living Dead Museum at the Monroeville Mall. Romero worked on a Simpson documentary that was released several years before Dawn.

Thanks for reading. We'll see you back here next week.

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