Stinking rich: Human waste contains trace amounts of gold

24 Mar 2015

When times are tough, people can now rest easy to know that when they need to perform a bodily function in the bathroom, they could be potentially excreting trace amounts of gold.

The discovery was made in treated solid waste which not only showed examples of the valuable metal, but other valuable metals including silver, palladium and vanadium which are commonly used in a variety of modern-day electronics and hardware.

The US Geological Survey (USGS) team led by Kathleen Smith have been working on getting up close and personal with human waste to get a better understanding of what exactly is in our waste and whether it could be used for other purposes rather than being most commonly used in fertilisers.

According to their release on the discovery, the US alone creates up to 7m tonnes of bio-solids each year after being processed at waste treatment facilities and by introducing a chemical known as leachates to the waste, they are able to extract these valuable metals to be used once again.


Microscopic gold-rich and lead-rich particles in a municipal biosolids sample. Image via Heather Lowers, USGS Denver Microbeam Laboratory

Also beneficial to the environment

However, their findings have been limited to relatively small towns and areas, particularly in the Rocky Mountains range, but have plans to expand their research to the wider US where they feel leachates can be used in a safe, controlled environment.

It certainly could prove a lucrative business for any future ‘waste miners’ as another study which looked into the existence of precious metals in human waste estimated that the yearly amount of waste created by 1m Americans could be valued somewhere in the region of US$13m.

Aside from just the monetary value, Smith says that it could also prove particularly beneficial to the environment as well, “If you can get rid of some of the nuisance metals that currently limit how much of these bio-solids we can use on fields and forests, and at the same time recover valuable metals and other elements, that’s a win-win.”

It might be worth noting that this week the price of gold has hit a two-week highpoint as of Monday…

Gold particles image via Shutterstock

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic