Precious metals are being flushed down the toilet. Literally. Estimates show that every year more than $26.3 million worth of precious metals are being sent through the sewers. Most of these precious metals are in the form of gold.
According to an analysis that was conducted by British utility company Thames Water, the amount of gold that is travelling through sewage systems is comparable to that of an active gold mine.
Cardiff University geologist Dr. Hazel Prichard has been working with Thames Water to study the amount of precious metals found in waste. Dr. Prichard and her team have been conducting tests of the incinerators that are designed to burn off sludge from sewage.
Dr. Prichard said of the test results, “We were stunned. They were all consistently high in gold.”
One finding even showed that very tiny quantities of gold and other precious metals are being washed down the sink every time someone washes their hands.
When people keep their wedding rings and other pieces of jewelry on their hands while washing their hands, very tiny amounts of the material gets washed away. This is also true when people with gold teeth brush their teeth. Additionally, cars also deposit small amounts of platinum into sewage drains from catalytic converters.
Dr. Prichard explained, “It’s one to three parts per million, which is huge. Goldmines are economical at one to three parts per million. The advantage is, it doesn’t need to be mined or crushed.”
Some people have already started taking advantage of these findings. In Tokyo, one facility has been created to extract gold from sewage sludge. The yields from the facility are reportedly comparable to the yields of active gold mines.
Dr. Prichard herself is working on creating an efficient method that can extract gold from sewage. There is no word yet on how she plans to go about this.