As North America enjoys a startlingly balmy winter, Europe is in the midst of a cripplingly frigid cold snap, with snow in Rome that damaged the Colosseum and hundreds dead from the cold. In Hungary, charities are getting heating fuel from the government…in the form of piles of money.
The moolah—Hungarian forints—that people feed into their stoves is paper currency so tattered and worn that is has to be retired from circulation. To make it truly burnable, the authorities tatter it even more, in special factories where old forint bills are shredded and then pressed with fragments of wood into combustible bricks, by workers who must wear special clothes with no pockets.
We only heard about this money-is-fuel situation because of cold-snap reporting. But the truth is, Hungary does this every year! The program has been going on for years, churning through 200 billion forints a year, about 40-50 tons. A 1-kilo (or about 2-lb) brick consists of 1 million forints and, according to the spokesman in the video above, has properties similar to brown coal, or lignite, which is a common, low-quality fuel source. Lignite is young coal, which has an energy value of less than 4611 kilocalories per kilo. That’s roughly comparable to burning wood, according to the FAO, which makes sense: Money does grow on trees, albeit with a bit of processing and printing and what-not in between, and it’s the celebration of this connection that is keeping folks in Hungarian charities warm this winter.