In one of the most extreme signs of China’s modern grasp of entrepreneurial possibilities, gold panners are striking deals with jewellery factories to buy the contents of their septic tanks.
The price of precious metals has soared to such record highs on the world’s markets that sifting the tanks’ contents for scrapings and offcuts has become a profitable business.
A reporter from a Chinese newspaper found a new breed of waste collectors touring the jewellery factories near Daluotang, a township near the city of Guangzhou.
They told him that small processing factories had discovered gold and silver filings in the septic tanks that had either washed off workers’ hands and faces or been ingested accidentally.
The collectors were paid to deliver the contents of septic tanks from factories and dormitory compounds. Processors would then sift, pan and finally recycle the tanks.
Contracts depended on the volume of effluent — one building sold the rights to its sewage for 140,000 yuan a year (about $18,000).
A smaller tank fetched 40,000 yuan ($5,000).