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There’s Gold in Switzerland’s Sewage

Also, a whole lot of silver.

In Switzerland, they just throw this stuff away.
In Switzerland, they just throw this stuff away. Alchemist-hp/CC BY-SA 3.0

Switzerland has so much gold that the country is flushing it down the drain. According to a new analysis by Eawag, the Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology, every year 95 pounds of gold, worth nearly $2 million, passes through Swiss wastewater treatment plants.

The gold, the researchers believe, comes from “tiny flecks of gold”—residue from the country’s watchmaking industry and gold refineries. As Bloomberg points out, refineries in this small European country deal with 70 percent of the world’s gold.

In most of the 64 wastewater treatment plants studied—and let’s take a moment to recognize the work of the researchers who had the job of studying “elements discharged in effluents or disposed of in sewage sludge”—the concentrations of gold were small enough that it’s not economically worthwhile to extract it from the rest of the waste. In southern Switzerland, though, where gold refineries are concentrated, enough gold is being wasted that it could be worth recovering from the sewage stream.

The researchers also found that gold isn’t the only precious metal in Switzerland’s wastewater. The sewage plants were also streaming with rare earth elements used in high-tech and medical industries and with silver—6,600 pounds per year, in total, worth $1.7 million. It must be good to be a country so rich that your garbage is gold and silver.