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The search for lost change: Belgians urged to empty their pockets

Smashed piggy bank.
Smashed piggy bank. Copyright Canva.
Copyright Canva.
By Eleanor Butler
Published on
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Putting forgotten coins back into circulation can cut government expenditure, as well as helping the environment, Belgians are told.

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Belgians are being encouraged to start spending their hidden coins so that there is no need for new production.

On Monday, the Treasury launched a #spendyourchange campaign on social media, which urges individuals to dig out their forgotten pennies.

There are currently more than 4.2 billion coins in Belgium, amounting to a value of more than €1.5 billion. If you put them all next to each other, they could go around the earth more than twice.

Despite this, some Belgian shops still don't have enough change to give to customers paying with cash. This is because many existing coins remain unused.

The #spendyourchange campaign comes after warnings of coin shortages from a number of key trade federations in Belgium.

Financial groups Febelfin, Comeos, and Unzio issued a joint statement in 2022 on the "hoarding" of 5, 10 and 20 cent coins.

"These coins are not circulating enough", said the federations.

"Since the corona crisis, consumers have been using these coins significantly less to pay for their purchases and therefore end up storing them instead, preventing them from returning to the circuit at retailers and banks. However, since retailers are still demanding these coins, a shortage is being created."

Digital transactions have overtaken cash payments

If Belgians don't want to pay with their spare coins, they also have the option to deposit them in the bank, or they could donate them to charity.

By putting just 2% of the unused coins back into circulation, the Belgian state estimates that it could save more than €5 million in production costs each year.

Reducing the creation of new pennies also has environmental benefits, as making and transporting coins releases significant carbon dioxide emissions.

One key reason why coins are lying dormant is that more customers are turning to digital payment methods.

According to an ECB study on payment attitudes, cash was used for 59% of point-of-sale transactions in the euro area in 2022. This is down from 72% in 2019. 

The research found that, although consumers prefer electronic payment methods, they also value the option to pay with cash. This is particularly the case for those aged 55 and over.

Austria, Germany and Ireland have the highest proportion of citizens who prefer cash, recording scores of 45%, 30%, and 28% respectively.

At the other end of the spectrum, only 7% of citizens in Finland said they prefer cash over card transactions.

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