Is it possible to carry one trillion shillings in notes?


The Sunday Nation


12 February 2023


Benson Githua asks: “How much space is required to store 1 trillion shillings in Sh1,000 notes. Maybe in terms of 40-foot containers.” Before attempting to answer this question, let me point out that we don’t have that amount of money in currency notes. According to the latest Central Bank of Kenya report, in November 2022, there was only about Sh355 billion in the form of notes and coins in the country.

This comprised of about Sh280B outside the banking system (in our wallets, pockets, handbags, under mattresses etc) and about Sh75B in the bank vaults all over the country. As I noted in a previous article (10th April, 2016), notes and coins represent a very small proportion of the money in the country.

Currently, the total money supply is about Sh4.2 trillion, so the Sh355B in notes and coins is just 8.4 per cent. The rest (91.6%) is just numbers written on bank statements. But don’t worry about it; even notes and coins mere pieces of paper and metal with numbers written on them. Money is an imaginary concept!

In view of the above, while Githua’s question is interesting, it is not realistic. It is like thinking about the googolplex – the number with a googol zeroes. If you have forgotten, a googol (NOT google!) has 100 zeroes. It is therefore impossible to write a googolplex because it has more zeroes that all the atoms in the entire universe!

Still; we need one billion Sh1,000 notes to make one trillion shillings. Each note measures 143mm x 70mm x 0.3mm. Therefore, each has a volume of about 3,000 cubic millimetres which is equal to 0.000003 cubic metres. So, one billion such notes would occupy 3,000 cubic metres.

Now, a 40-ft shipping container carries 67 cubic metres (CBM, shipping jargon) of cargo, therefore, we would need about 45 such containers to carry the one trillion shillings. But we must also consider the weight.

I can’t get the weight of our notes so, I will estimate it to be about 50g per square metre. Thus, each note is about 0.5g. So, one billion notes will weight about 500 tonnes. The 40ft container carries a maximum of 26 tonnes, which comes to about 20 containers.

But the notes wouldn’t fit in 20 containers since their volume is too large. Hence, we have to go with 45. But as I noted earlier, first we’ have to print the extra notes because they do not exist!

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