One of the facts of the post-industrial world is that affluent societies waste a great deal of resources, whether it is food, energy, or otherwise.
In Switzerland, where 70% of the world's gold gets refined, trace amounts of precious metals (primarily gold and silver) have been detected in the country's waste water. The concentrations are low, of course, but the scale of the gold and silver particles are staggering when you add them up.
In one year, an astounding 43 kilograms of gold (worth roughly $1.8 million) and some 3,000 kilos of silver (worth almost the same amount) were detected across Switzerland's waste water treatment plants. In terms of Swiss francs, the total value has been estimated at about 3 million CHF. The data came as the result of extensive research by scientists.
The report was published by the Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology. Aside from the gold refineries that Switzerland is known around the world for, the particles of gold and silver made it into the country's waste due to the chemical and medical industries, where these precious metals have various applications. Another source could be the famous Swiss watchmaking industry, where gold particles undoubtedly flake off of the material during the process of crafting these precision timepieces.
This research may lead to some kind of precious metal recycling program at Swiss wastewater plants, but not all of the plants offer a cost-effective means of filtering out and recovering the metals. This isn't to say it can't be done -- just not done profitably. However, there is hope that the wastewater treatment facilities with the highest concentrations of gold may be able to do so.
Luckily, the research also concludes that the concentrations of gold and silver are low enough that they pose no threat to human health or the environment.
This is yet another example of a captivating story about "gold down the drain"—yet what a shame that millions of dollars in precious metals are lost to waste in Switzerland every year!
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