Marketplace - American Public Media

The TARP police are still on call

Mon, 2015-03-16 10:22

TARP, or the "Troubled Assets Relief Program," was a major part of the bank and automaker bailout that Congress passed in the wake of the 2008 subprime mortgage crisis.

The government's last major TARP holding — a stake in Ally Financial — was sold in December 2014.

That doesn't mean TARP is entirely over. 

SIGTARP, or the Office of the Special Inspector General for TARP, is headed by Christy Romero. SIGTARP has the legal authority to investigate and prosecute misuse of TARP funds. Dozens of scammers have already been prosecuted, and Romero says that so far her office has recovered $1.57 billion in taxpayer money.

American TP is getting more luxurious

Mon, 2015-03-16 10:20
662

The number of Chicago police officers accounting for nearly half of the abuse complaints leveled against the 13,500-member force from 2001 to 2006. Turns out, despite the high costs of lawsuits, very few police departments do this kind of number-crunching to avoid them. Many of the largest departments don't consistently track the spending or circumstances around these cases.

$1.4 billion

That's how much Americans spent on quilted, ultra soft, lotioned, scented and other "luxury" toilet paper last year, the Washington Post reported, and that number is on track to eclipse regular and budget TP spending in the years to come. It's an "affordable indulgence" and brands are embracing the trend with all kinds of new varieties and boy band pitchmen.

7.5 fluid ounces

The size of Coca-Cola's mini cans, which several nutritionists and bloggers have pitched in blog posts and articles as a "good snack," the Associated Press reported. Many of the post writers have worked with Coke in the past, or were paid to recommend the smaller-portion sodas. The company likens the practice to product placement, and the AP notes it comes at a time when cola sales are falling in the U.S.

30 years

That's how long ago America Online was just taking shape, reaching a million subscribers a year later. CEO Steve Case left the company more than a decade ago, and now he's a venture capitalist in Washington. Case sat down with Marketplace Tech at SXSW Interactive to talk about Facebook, the state of tech in D.C. and "the third wave of the Internet."

43.4 million

That's about how many digital cameras were sold last year, a 30 percent drop from 2013 and a new low for the decade. On his blog, Gigaom founder Om Malik traces the fall of the standalone camera and charts it along with the iPhone's rise.

American TP is getting more luxuious

Mon, 2015-03-16 10:20
662

The number of Chicago police officers accounting for nearly half of the abuse complaints leveled against the 13,500-member force from 2001 to 2006. Turns out, despite the high costs of lawsuits, very few police departments do this kind of number-crunching to avoid them. Many of the largest departments don't consistently track the spending or circumstances around these cases.

$1.4 billion

That's how much Americans spent on quilted, ultra soft, lotioned, scented and other "luxury" toilet paper last year, the Washington Post reported, and that number is on track to eclipse regular and budget TP spending in the years to come. It's an "affordable indulgence" and brands are embracing the trend with all kinds of new varieties and boy band pitchmen.

7.5 fluid ounces

The size of Coca-Cola's mini cans, which several nutritionists and bloggers have pitched in blog posts and articles as a "good snack," the Associated Press reported. Many of the post writers have worked with Coke in the past, or were paid to recommend the smaller-portion sodas. The company likens the practice to product placement, and the AP notes it comes at a time when cola sales are falling in the U.S.

30 years

That's how long ago America Online was just taking shape, reaching a million subscribers a year later. CEO Steve Case left the company more than a decade ago, and now he's a venture capitalist in Washington. Case sat down with Marketplace Tech at SXSW Interactive to talk about Facebook, the state of tech in D.C. and "the third wave of the Internet."

43.4 million

That's about how many digital cameras were sold last year, a 30 percent drop from 2013 and a new low for the decade. On his blog, Gigaom founder Om Malik traces the fall of the standalone camera and charts it along with the iPhone's rise.

Canada proposes tougher standards for oil tankers

Mon, 2015-03-16 09:46

North America has seen four oil train disasters in the last month. Trains carrying crude oil have derailed and caught fire. Even before these events, Canadian authorities toughened standards for railroad tank cars. Now they’ve proposed even tighter rules.

Thicker steel walls will be required for tank cars, as well as shields on top and outer thermal “jackets” to protect in case of fire.

Chris Barken, professor and executive director of the University of Illinois Rail Transportation and Engineering Center, says the changes will “make it much less likely to overheat and suffer a thermal tear, such as we’ve seen in a number of these recent accidents.”

Thinner-walled cars were blamed for a Quebec disaster two years ago that killed 47 people. Of the cars that derailed, 94 percent spilled oil that burned.

Canada plans a 10-year phase-in of new tank cars, which strikes some critics as too slow. Critics also say the current oil train safety conversation is too narrow. It’s a complex issue and they want it to include issues of train speed, tracks, bridges, insurance coverage and routes.

 

A question for the Fed: What inflation?

Mon, 2015-03-16 09:42

The Federal Reserve meets Tuesday for two days, and many market watchers expect more clues about when the central bank will raise interest rates.

But the Producer Price Index released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics on Friday suggests that there might not be much inflation to combat. It dropped unexpectedly by 0.5 percent, which could mean that interest rates aren't going anywhere anytime soon.

SxSW Interactive: Robot petting zoos and a bionic man

Mon, 2015-03-16 09:33

Marketplace host David Gura checked in with Marketplace Tech host Ben Johnson to get the latest on this year’s South by Southwest Interactive conference.

“Brands come down here to gain visibility among a really large media audience: actors, venture capitalists, music fans,” Johnson says.

It makes sense that established brands — as well as startups — would want to make an impression at SxSW.

“There have been some big things launched here, like Twitter many years back – now a public company with a market cap of $30 billion or thereabouts,” says Johnson. 

According to Johnson, the interactive portion of SxSW is really about “an exchange of ideas.”

What are some of the prominent topics at this year’s SxSW Interactive? Johnson says privacy and virtual reality are getting a lot of attention. And a robot petting zoo

“But one big idea this year is bionics. And more broadly, when and how our bodies will actually merge with technology,” says Johnson. 

Hugh Herr of MIT’s Media Lab Center for Extreme Bionics, presented at SXSW as part of the IEEE's "The Future of Identity" series, and wore what he called the "world’s first powered ankle foot prosthesis."

Johnson says, consumers won’t necessarily see any of the bionics at this year’s SxSW any time soon. But that doesn’t mean big companies aren’t listening to conversations about the future of bionics.

“The more those discussions happen they get closer to reality,” Johnson says.  

FTC changes its procedures for challenging mergers

Mon, 2015-03-16 08:31

The Federal Trade Commission has announced changes to the way it challenges mergers it believes are anti-competitive or bad for consumers. The new rules come as the commission faces criticism from Republican lawmakers, some of whom are pitching legislation that would press the FTC to rely on federal courts instead of its own in-house system.

Under its old procedures, when the FTC views a merger as anti-competitive, it typically goes down two different paths: It asks a federal judge to issue a preliminary injunction -- which essentially freezes the merger-- while it also holds a trial in its own in-house administrative court system.

Under the new rules, if the FTC’s request for a preliminary injunction is denied, merging parties can request to withdraw from the administrative proceeding -- a request which will now be automatically granted. This allows the parties to be able talk to the commission, which they can't do when the case is ongoing, and gives them the opportunity to try to settle or convince the commissioners to abandon the administrative case altogether. However, the FTC retains the option to re-start administrative proceeding if it believes it's in the public's interest.

This approach means companies will get a faster resolution to their cases, says John Coffee,  a professor at Columbia Law School.

“This is a big victory for the corporate community,” he explains. “Mergers need to be resolved in the near term. If they stretch on for a year without being resolved, many of the benefits are lost.”

The cost of keeping social media sites in check

Mon, 2015-03-16 08:27

Facebook has a new set of "community standards" — the rules governing what you can and cannot do on the platform. It's nearly three times as long as the previous version thanks to more detail about, for example, what kind of nude photos are acceptable. 

Rebecca MacKinnon, director of the New America Foundation's Ranking Digital Rights project, says it's in part a reaction to criticism that Facebook has clamped down too much on free speech, from photographs to pseudonyms of anonymous protesters. 

Twitter, in contrast, has taken flak for being too permissive of bullying.

"Twitter is a much easier place to kind of drop in, drop a little bomb, and go away," says Fatemeh Khatibloo, analyst at Forrester.

Jonathon Morgan, a data scientist who co-authored a report on the use of Twitter by the terrorist group ISIS, says the difference between the two social networks' approach to free speech is more about being different products than having different philosophies.

Advice to would-be 'Jeopardy' contestants

Mon, 2015-03-16 08:27

If you ever find yourself on the "Jeopardy" stage in front of Alex Trebek and you're totally stumped, what's your best Hail Mary guess?

Well, someone has gone through every Jeopardy episode between 1984 and 2012, He looked at close to 200,000 clues and found that one has been the answer, or question in this case, 216 times.

The answer is, "What is China?"

Based on this analysis: You'd be wise to "focus on science, literature, history, and geography." And the most common final Jeopardy category, at least recently, is "word origins."

An environmental movement is awakening in China

Mon, 2015-03-16 07:51

China’s Premier Li Keqiang said this week the government is serious about cutting smog and will impose harsher fines on polluters. Keqiang's comments came after the online release this month of a groundbreaking — at least, for China — documentary on the country’s air pollution crisis, called “Under the Dome” (video).

The country’s environment minister compared it to Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring,” the book that paved the way for the U.S. environmental movement, but Chinese officials have been silent on the film since — and it’s even been taken offline in the country, presumably by government censors.

Still, China observers say this may be the country’s “Silent Spring” moment.

“The Chinese public has come to believe they have a right to a clean environment,” says Jennifer Turner, director of the China Environment Forum at the Wilson Center. 

Like the early U.S. anti-air pollution movement, mothers worried about pollution's health effects have initiated much of the dissent, and big polluting industries are resisting change. Change in China is complicated by the fact that powerful local governments have little incentive to curb the dirty industries that fuel their economies, and often try to skirt the central government’s regulations.

PODCAST: Doing the numbers on police misconduct

Mon, 2015-03-16 07:46

The FTC is changing the way it fights mergers it doesn't like, cutting back on challenges in its own internal court and relying more on federal injunctions. We check in with Marketplace's Tracey Samuelson on what the rule changes could mean for pending, controversial mergers. Then, China has reportedly passed Germany to become the world's third-largest arms exporter. That hardware is primarily going to equipping African and other Asian armies, many of them at odds with the U.S. and its allies. Finally, police misconduct trials and settlements can be hugely expensive, but departments keep surprisingly little data on suits and frequent offenders. Dan Weissmann investigates.

Quiz: Swarms of small colleges

Mon, 2015-03-16 06:38

The closure of Sweet Briar College, a women’s college with about 700 students, put a spotlight on small schools.

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Former AOL CEO Steve Case on the web's 'third wave'

Mon, 2015-03-16 03:57

This week Marketplace Tech is exploring South by Southwest Interactive, the tech-oriented event that draws tens of thousands of people to Austin, Texas. That audience comes to talk about what’s next in tech and to pitch their ideas.

Steve Case is no exception. The Billionaire and AOL CEO turned venture capitalist is here to advocate for tech hubs outside of Silicon Valley. We sat down with him to talk about the past, present and future of the Internet.

Twenty years ago, AOL had just hit 1 million subscribers. That feels like centuries ago, not decades ago.

It was a long time ago. I agree with that. And we had actually been at it for more than a decade at that point. We started AOL 30 years ago this year. At the time only 3% of people were online, and they were only online an hour a week. It’s also worth remembering it wans’t until 1982 that it was even legal for people to connect to the internet. The first wave of the internet in the 70s and 80s was restricted to government use and university use, so scientists and educators and bureaurats could use it, but real people couldn’t.

What’s shocked you about the way the online world has changed since you first got in the game?

Well actually, what shocked me the first time was it actually took longer than I thought for the idea to take hold. PC manufacturers didn’t want to build in communications modems, because they thought, “Most people don’t want this, so why would we add that?”

Every start up needs a true believer

Every concept needs a tribe of true believers.

Speaking of which, talk to me about Washington

Well Washington, actually, is emerging very quickly as a hot startup center. It was not true 30 years ago when we started AOL in Virginia, across the river from D.C., and now you see the debates around net neutrality and other things, and the government role is heating up again. I think key parts of our economy are going to require more interaciton with the government as a regulator and a customer. The government spends more money on learning and health than any other organization. It’s going to require a different kind of entrepreneur.

You mention net neutrality. How do you feel about that issue? Where do you come down on it?

I think it’s important. AOL could not have been possible without breaking up the phone company. The key ruling there said that companies like AOL could connect to the telecomm system. Up until then, they couldn’t.

Is Facebook the next AOL?

In some ways it is, because our core was always people. Facebook has taken that baton and developed a strategy with a broad global footprint that’s really been quite impressive.

It seems like they’re trying to build a place where you go to do everything. In the early days it seems like AOL was similar. You were going into a space that was controlled by one company, even if there was plenty of community within that space.

That’s partially true. Our strategy was really to be the internet and a whole lot more.

Were most of your users getting outside of it?

In the early years the vast majority of the use was custom services that were exclusive to AOL. Over itme the broader internet services got more traciton. But even when I stopped running the company 15 years ago, the majority of the services used were the services that were part of the AOL package of unique services.

Tell me about the third wave of the internet.

The first wave was 1985 to 2000. That was really building the internet. And the second phase, over the last 15 years, has been building on top of the internet. But the next phase, the third wave, is going to be integrating the internet more seamlessly and pervasively in our everyday lives.

We’re asking a lot of people what they’re here to pitch. What’s your pitch?

It’s really what we’ve been talking about. I think there’s a new wave of innovation that’s about to break. And it’s going to be around this third wave of the internet, which is disrupting sectors like education and healthcare and energy. If you’re an entreprenneur in St. Louis or Des Moines or Minneapolis or Pittsburgh, you’re gonna have great opportunities to build companies on the back of these trends, but you need to know what battle you’re gearing up for.

And, because we couldn’t resist...

The music industry's cassette comeback

Fri, 2015-03-13 14:44

The way Popeye is about spinach or Jane Goodall is about chimpanzees is how Mike Haley is about cassette tapes. Haley’s got a podcast called Tabs Out and it’s all about cassettes. Haley lives in Wilmington, Delaware, and every few weeks or so he gets his friends together and talks tape.

“[We] sit around, and drink some beers, play some tapes, and ramble on about whatever dumb thing you can think about to critique a cassette tape, I think we’ve talked about it already,” says Haley.

While Haley features indie, quirky and unique artists who release cassettes, some big players are getting into the cassette game. Disney sold about 2,500 copies of the "Guardians of the Galaxy" soundtrack on tape, according to Nielsen. Then, there are indie labels like Burger Records, which claims to have sold more than 300,000 cassette tapes since 2007.

What’s driving this cassette tape renaissance? Well, tapes are cheap. Jessica Bordeaux is co-owner of Portland-based New Moss Records. Boudreaux says tapes are a low-risk gamble.

“We don’t know realistically how many people are going to buy [releases],” Bordeaux says. “And I think tapes do lend themselves to more creative packaging then … and a lot of the record stores aren’t going to sell your tapes, and so you can be more weird and creative.”

That creativity can help keep super fans interested in a band — and those super fans really matter for the $15 billion global music industry. According to Nielsen, which tracks music sales, about 70 cents of every music dollar comes from a super fan. So, if a band like Metallica puts out rare or hard to get material, there’s a good chance super fans will snatch it up.

If that material is on cassette — with its high profit margins — cha-ching.

For collectors, tapes are so much better than digital music, says label Kill Rock Stars' production manager, James Reling, since you can actually hold them.

“Things have become so disposable, when you see something that is so obviously not disposable, it has that much more appeal as something that is kinda precious or special,” Reling says.

That tangibility also has some data geeks are clamoring for these cassettes, as well. That’s because Sony, IBM and other hardware companies have developed tapes that aren’t your grandma’s tapes. They can store about 185 terabytes of data, the equivalent all the printed collected works in the Library of Congress times 18.5.

Graeme McMillian writes for Wired magazine, and he says cassette tapes are appealing for the same reason music collectors might like them — they exist in real life.

“If you have a glitch with your digital storage, it could be gone,” says McMillian. “Whereas with tape, it’s tangible. It’s right there.”

So, does all this mean we really do have a cassette tape renaissance? Mike Haley thinks probably not, they're just a fad.

“Metallica, and Jeff Bridges are making thousands and thousands of tapes or whatever,” Haley says. “I think they’ll eventually figure out that this isn’t really working. I think that enough people wrote think pieces that cassettes are making a comeback, to make people think cassettes are making a comeback, when in reality writing about cassettes are making a comeback.”

Wait a minute ... writing about cassette tapes was once a thing?

This story comes to us from The Future of What, a new public radio program focusing on the music industry.

'Going Clear' explores the finances of Scientology

Fri, 2015-03-13 11:38

Marketplace's Lizzie O'Leary speaks to filmmaker Alex Gibney and author-producer Lawrence Wright about their HBO documentary, "Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief."

"Going Clear" opens in Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York on Friday, March 13, with a broadcast release on HBO on March 29th.

More information about the Scientology response to the film is available at the Church of Scientology Freedom Magazine website

Listen to the full interview with Alex Gibney and Lawrence Wright in the player above.

Pope pushes on with Vatican financial reforms

Fri, 2015-03-13 11:33

Friday marks the second anniversary of the election of Pope Francis. In just two years, he’s credited with breathing new life into the Catholic Church with his focus on reform and repairing the church's reputation.

One priority has been cleaning up the Vatican Bank, created during World War II to manage money for the Catholic Church. Over the years it became mired in allegations of money laundering and tax evasion.

“So far, he’s been the new sheriff in town,” says Gerald Posner, author of the book “God’s Bankers: A History of Money and Power at the Vatican." “He’s really passing reforms that—if he’s there long enough—will change this bank into a boring, mid-level, sort of government bank, and the wild, crazy days of the past will be over.”

The return of the debt limit

Fri, 2015-03-13 11:33

This Sunday the United States' statutory debt limit will once again go into effect, essentially reinstating the debt ceiling at the level of the U.S. debt on Sunday, probably around $18 trillion.

The reason the debt limit is returning to haunt our fiscal dreams is because Congress kicked the can down the road when it passed a suspension of the debt limit in February, 2014. 

But it's hard to know how long the Department of Treasury can use "extraordinary measures" to keep paying its bills before it begins to risk defaulting on its debt. That's because government revenues are lumpy — lots comes in during tax season, for example. The best estimate sets the new deadline at some time in October or November.

My money story: When family values battle happiness

Fri, 2015-03-13 11:32

Betty Ming Liu's parents immigrated to the United States in the mid-1940s to escape political turmoil in China. Liu grew up in New York's Chinatown, where her father owned a book-keeping business.

She explains her outlook on money, and her experience growing up with immigrant parents.

Betty Ming Liu is a blogger, journalist, and professor in the New York City area. To hear Betty Ming Liu's full story, listen using the audio player above. 

Arianna Huffington wants you to sleep more

Fri, 2015-03-13 11:09

After collapsing from exhaustion eight years ago, Arianna Huffington had a realization that re-shaped her way of life.

The media guru who founded The Huffington Post now touts the importance of sleep in her latest book, Thrive. She has installed nap rooms for employees at the Post’s office and encourages disconnecting from technology — but could she have gotten to the place she’s at now if she had followed her own advice at the beginning of her career?

Huffington seems to think so.

“I would not only be where I am, I would be where I am with less damage to my health, my relationships, less worry and anxiety,” she says.

Huffington is excited that conversations surrounding meditation and sleep have become more mainstream

“We are all living a little bit under the collective delusion that burnout is the essential price for success, and all the modern scientific findings make it very clear that that’s not the case,” she says. “New science is validating ancient wisdom about the importance of sleep, of renewal, of what we are calling unplugging and recharging.”

However, Huffington's own media channel might be, in part, to blame for the obsession with being interconnected and constantly in the digital world.

Ryssdal: You start your book writing of an incident in which you basically woke up to this realization. Describe me for that, would you?

Huffington: It was about 8 years ago when I collapsed from exhaustion, burnout, and sleep deprivation… hit my head on the way down, broke my cheekbone, got four stitches on my right eye. That was the beginning of this journey that I’ve been on, of really coming to… in my own pool of blood. And nobody had shot me! And asking the question, “is this what success is?” We are all living a little bit under the collective delusion that burnout is the essential price for success, and all the modern scientific findings make it very clear that that’s not the case. In fact, that’s one of the exciting things about the times we’re living through – that new science is validating ancient wisdom about the importance of sleep, of renewal, of what we are calling unplugging and recharging.

Ryssdal: Without discounting any of that, I mean that is all important and we all have to do it, but I wonder if it’s easy for you to say – a woman of some means who’s had a lot of success in her life and who got there by burning out and who is now saying “Oh, wait a minute. Let’s not do it this way anymore.”

Huffington: Well, it’s hard because our culture is so screwed up. There is that prevalent assumption that if you burn out…that if you’re up all night…you’re going to be better at finding a job or making ends meet when, in fact, the opposite is true. You can tell…each one of us can tell from our personal experience when we’re exhausted, when we’re burnt out, we are less creative. We are much more reactive. So the truth is, we have all the evidence in front of us that that’s not the case. But nevertheless, it is a very very entrenched collective delusion, so I can understand why you’re asking this question.

Ryssdal: Do you think the company you founded, do you think the Huffington Post, helped get us where we are today with needing to be plugged in?

Huffington: Unfortunately, this is just something that happened because of so many factors and so many companies. It’s our smartphones. It’s Facebook. It’s Twitter. It’s the Huffington Post. It’s every digital media company. It’s really the times we’re living through. But what is great is that in the last year, we’ve begun to have a fascinating conversation around the need to disconnect. Suddenly, these things – meditation, sleep, renewal - have gone from the pages of the Yoga Journal to the front pages of the Wall Street Journal and The Economist. We are going to see many more people adopting these new practices, which are actually very old.

Ryssdal: I want you to do something for me. Think for a minute about the Arianna Huffington of 2005, as she was launching the Huffington Post. Now take the Arianna Huffington of today, and tell me what you would tell yourself from 10 years ago, having come through this and now found your moment of zen, if you will.

Huffington: I would tell myself to stop worrying and get more sleep.

Ryssdal: But would you be where you are today? That’s the point.

Huffington: Oh, absolutely! I would not only be where I am, I would be where I am with less damage to my health, my relationships, less worry and anxiety. I have 55 pages of scientific add. notes in the book so this is not a matter of one woman’s opinions or one woman’s experience. This is simply collecting all the data. We see all around us casualties, people who are willing to sacrifice their wellbeing on the altar of success. And if you go back and study where that started, it started with the Industrial Revolution when we thought we could really emulate machines and have a hundred percent up-time, and human beings were not designed that way.

Ryssdal: What’s it like to work for you? If I walk into the Huffington Post today, am I going to see this all reflected?

Huffington: Yes, absolutely. First of all, four years ago, we opened two nap rooms and I encourage everybody who starts during the day to have a nap instead of a fifth cup of coffee or a third cinnamon bun.

Ryssdal: Have you ever used those nap rooms?

Huffington: Well actually I have, but I also have a couch in my office, and I don’t want to occupy the nap room. My office has all glass, and when I would have a nap, I would normally close the curtain, and now I don’t. Because I feel like it’s a really good message, when I’m seen actually napping on the job to actually make it clear that it’s perfectly ok.

Ryssdal: Arianna Huffington, you know her from The Huffington Post. Her book is called Thrive. Arianna, thanks very much.

Huffington: Thank you so much, thank you.

How money gets burned

Fri, 2015-03-13 09:33

What happens to money after it becomes too old and worn to be useable?

Until just a few years ago, most of it was sent to landfills. Now, as part of a recycling initiative at the Federal Reserve, hundreds of tons of shredded bills are burned each year to generate electricity.

Officials at the Federal Reserve in Los Angeles said that the program — which has increased the percentage of recycled cash from 30 percent to more than 90 percent since 2010 — has multiple benefits for the region.

“We’re able to divert the shredded currency away from landfills, we have done so at lesser cost to the Fed, and the County of Los Angeles now has an additional source of fuel,” says Deborah Awai, a group vice president at the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco.

Deep within the Federal Reserve’s cash-processing facility in Los Angeles on a recent Monday morning, employees were loading bundles of currency into sorting machines that determine whether a bill is still fit enough to stay in circulation, is too old and worn, or is counterfeit.

The Los Angeles branch received 3.1 billion notes of currency in 2014. Good bills are set aside to await their return to circulation. Counterfeit ones are sent to the Secret Service. Lousy notes are shredded.

Nationwide, about 5,000 tons of currency are shredded annually. The shredded currency is recycled in various ways, including composting and manufacturing. About one-third is burned to generate electricity.

The Los Angeles branch burns more currency than any of the other 27 cash processing facilities in the nation.

The conversion occurs at the refuse-to-energy facility in the City of Commerce near Los Angeles. Five days a week, trucks back into the plant’s warehouse and dump garbage into an enormous pit inside.

Matt Eaton, a division engineer with the Los Angeles County Sanitation Districts, said that the facility receives about 100,000 tons of waste from various sources each year. The heat generates enough electricity from its steam turbines to provide power for 20,000 homes.

The approximately 535 tons of shredded money from the Los Angeles cash-processing branch only constitutes a minuscule percentage of the total waste the facility receives. Still, Eaton estimated that energy provided by the burned cash is enough to power 100 homes.

The money is also valuable because it acts as kindling for messier garbage.

“It does burn really well, and it helps support the combustion of some waste we get in that may be wetter or doesn’t burn as easily,” Eaton said.

He said the fact that the cash was recently worth millions of dollars doesn’t phase employees when it arrives.

“It’s treated like any other source of waste. People don’t come out running when we see the currency. If it wasn’t shredded, maybe, but because it’s shredded, no. It’s like any other waste,” Eaton said.

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