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Chloe Effron

How Much Does it Cost to Manufacture U.S. Paper Money? 

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Chloe Effron

To make money, you gotta spend money—and no one does this to better effect than the Federal Reserve. In fiscal year 2014, the Bureau of Engraving and Printing created 6.9 billion paper notes, with a total value of $130.1 billion, which adds up to about 24.8 million notes a day. That might seem like an enormous amount to be adding to the pool, but in fact, more than 90 percent of the notes are used to replace ones already in circulation (or recently taken out). It never stops, either: In the current fiscal year, the BEP plans on making 7.2 billion notes, valued at $188.7 billion, a 20 percent increase from last year. It’s just a fraction of the total amount of money currently circulating—about $1.37 trillion as of June 4, 2015—of which $1.32 trillion was in Federal Reserve notes.

So how much money is it costing the government to produce all that dough? Well, $1 and $2 bills cost 4.9 cents per note to make, while $5 cost 10.9 cents, $10 cost 10.3 cents, both $20 and $50 bills cost 10.5 cents, and $100 bills cost 12.3 cents. In other words, the more it’s worth, the more it costs to produce.

While each individual note costs a fraction of what it's worth to produce, those bills do add up. Not to mention raw materials: Between the facilities in Fort Worth and Washington D.C., about 8.9 tons of ink was used each day in the last fiscal year. When it’s all said and done, if the new currency budget is an accurate prediction, the Fed will spend about $717.9 million this year alone.

Graphic by Chloe Effron

(And yes, the $10,000 bill is a real thing. It's officially still legal tender, but the Fed discontinued them in 1969).

Graphic by Chloe Effron

After all that effort and money, the government does its best to make the bills last—which includes laws against defacing currency. You can’t draw on, cut up, glue anything on, disfigure, perforate, or otherwise mutilate currency under Title 18, Section 333 of the United States Code. Such actions could land you with a fine and/or jail time. If you have any doubts about the severity of this fact, we can attest to its reach. Pulling a bill into Photoshop (for purely digital and educational purposes) yields this alert: “This application does not support the editing of banknote images. For more information, select the information button below for Internet-based information on restrictions for copying and distributing banknote images or go to www.rulesforuse.org.”

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Weird
Switzerland Flushes $1.8 Million in Gold Down the Sewer Every Year
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Switzerland has some pretty valuable sewer systems. As Bloomberg reports, scientists have discovered around $1.8 million worth of gold in the country's wastewater, along with $1.7 million worth of silver.

Scientists at the Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology examined sewage sludge and effluents, or discharged liquid waste, from 64 water treatment plants and major Swiss rivers. They did this to assess the concentrations of various trace elements, which are "increasingly widely used in the high-tech and medical sectors," the scientists explained in a press statement. "While the ultimate fate of the various elements has been little studied to date, a large proportion is known to enter wastewater."

The study, which was recently published online in the journal Environmental Science & Technology, revealed that around 94 pounds of gold makes its way through Switzerland's sewage system each year, along with 6600 pounds of silver and high concentrations of rare metals like gadolinium and niobium. For the most part, these metals don't harm the environment, researchers say.

With gold and silver quite literally flowing through their sewers, is there any way that Switzerland could turn their wastewater into wealth? Scientists are skeptical: "The recovery of metals from wastewater or sludge is scarcely worthwhile at present, either financially or in terms of the amounts which could be extracted," the release explains.

However, in the southern canton of Ticino, which is home to several gold refineries, the "concentrations of gold in sewage sludge are sufficiently high for recovery to be potentially worthwhile," they conclude.

Switzerland is famous for its chocolate, watches, and mountains, but it's also home to major gold refineries. On average, around 70 percent of the world's gold passes through Switzerland every year—and judging from the looks of it, much of it goes down the drain. As for the sewer silver, it's a byproduct of the chemical and pharmaceutical industry, which is a cornerstone of Switzerland's economy.

[h/t Bloomberg]

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14 Things You Owned in the '70s That are Worth a Fortune Now
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DON EMMERT/AFP/Getty Images

From old toys and housewares to books and records, these pieces of '70s memorabilia have aged (and increased in value) like fine wine.

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