Alright onto the next episode of Hail Capitalism!
Monumental amounts of money could be made from flushing down the drain by extracting gold and valuable metals from human poop, scientists are suggesting.
While it may be hard to believe, sewage crud contains traces of gold, silver and platinum at levels that would be seen as commercially acceptable by traditional potential buyers. “The gold we found was at the same level of a minimal mineral deposit,” said Kathleen Smith, of the US Geological Survey.
Smith and her colleagues are willing to bet that extracting metals from waste could also help limit the release of harmful metals, such as lead, into the environment in fertilizers and reduce the amount of toxic sewage that has to be buried or burnt. We’re all for that but what do they really want here?
“If you can get rid of some of the nuisance metals that currently limit how much of these biosolids we can use on fields and forests, and at the same time recover valuable metals and other elements, that’s a win-win,” she said.
A study from the past by Arizona State University, estimated that a city of only 1 million inhabitants flushed roughly$13m (£8.7m) worth of valuable metals down the potty and sewer drains each year.
So whose gonna do it for the sake of corporate money?
The task of sifting through sewage for microscopic quantities of gold in poop may indeed sound poopy, but it could have a variety of unprecedented benefits over the good ole traditional gold mining. The use of powerful chemicals, called leachates, used by the industry to pull metals out of rock is hotly debated, because these chemicals can be harmful to ecosystems when they leak into the rest of nature. However, in the controlled setting of a sewage plant, the chemicals could be used liberally without the ecological risks. But doesn’t that sounds risky to us then?
Valuable metals are increasingly used in everyday products you know such as detergents, shampoos, and even your clothes where nano particles are sometimes used to prevent body odor. Any waste containing these metals all end up being funneled through sewage treatment plants, where many metals end up in the leftover solid waste bin. “There are metals everywhere,” Smith noted. Very telling.
Notably, more than 7m tonnes of “biosolids” or what we like to call gold poop, come out of US sewage treatment plants each year! Also half of which is incinerated or sent to landfill and half used as fertilizer on fields and in forests remaining in the US. In the UK, about 500,000 tonnes of dry sewage solids are used as fertilizer each year. The amount of waste that can be converted into fertilizer is limited, in part, by the high levels of some metals.
“We’re interested in collecting valuable metals that could be sold, including some of the more technologically important metals, such as vanadium and copper that are in cell phones, computers and alloys,” Smith said.
To assess the viability of mining sewage, the team collected samples of poop from small towns in the Rocky Mountains, rural communities and big cities, and used a scanning electron microscope to observe microscopic quantities of gold, silver and platinum.
In findings presented on Monday at the 249th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society in Denver, the scientists showed that the readings of the valuable metals levels were comparable with those found in some commercial mines. Not bad right?
The eight year study, which involved monthly testing of treated sewage samples, found that 1kg of sludge contained on average amount of 0.4mg gold, 28mg of silver, 638mg copper and 49mg vanadium.
A sewage treatment facility in Tokyo that has already started extracting gold from sludge has reported a yield matching or even bestings those found in ore at some leading gold mines. Of course only in Japan has this really kicked off. In fact they already have something called “Golden Poop” it’s not really made of gold but it looks like a chocolate swirl covered in gold plating. Another gift to bring back if you visit there.
Meanwhile in the U.S. earlier this year, Bill Gates demonstrated his confidence in an extreme sewage purification system by drinking a glass of clean water extracted from human waste. Tasty!