Economy

There's Gold In Them Thar Sewage Pipes, Swiss Researchers Say

According to a new analysis by Eawag, the Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology, every year 95 pounds of gold, worth almost $2 million, passes through Swiss wastewater treatment plants.

In most cases, it would be so expensive to extract and recycle that it wouldn't make economic sense - recovery would be "scarcely worthwhile", as the researchers put it. While this may not seem much at first glance, the nationwide fluxes expressed in kilograms per year are quite substantial - 3000 kg of silver, 43 kg of gold, 1070 kg of gadolinium, 1500 kg of neodymium and 150 kg of ytterbium (see Table S9 in the original publication). The study, involving 64 wastewater treatment plants across Switzerland, was commissioned by the Federal Office for the Environment.

The researchers believe the tiny flecks of gold flow into the waste water system from the country's famed watchmaking industry and gold refineries.

Some areas had higher concentrations of gold than others. It must be good to be a country so rich that your garbage is gold and silver.

In some sites, like Ticino, researchers say the concentrations of gold in the sewage sludge are "sufficiently high for recovery to be potentially worthwhile".

In addition to the precious metals, the researchers also looked at concentrations of various elements that are useful in electronics and luminous paints.

Switzerland seems like a lovely place to live: snowy mountain peaks to ski, lakeside cities to explore, and 43 kilograms of gold flowing through the sewers that no one seems all that anxious about.

The report says the study focused primarily on the fluxes and mass balances, rather than recovery value.

Switzerland's gold refineries may want to consider starting a recycling program.

This isn't the first time major metals have been detected in sewage sludge.



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