Toilet talk: your number twos could be worth a pretty penny! 35



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Back when I was a nicely brought up boy in the 1950s, I was taught by my mummy that any outbreak of what she called “toilet talk” was strictly forbidden.

Thus the evacuation of the bowels was delicately referred to as “having number twos”.

Such is the decline in modern standards that now otherwise respectable scientists are openly talking about “number twos” in a way that would turn mummy’s stomach. I must warn her custodians at her Aged Care Facility not to let her get hold of a certain paper presented only recently to the National Meeting and Exposition of the American Chemical Society.

This paper – the work of Dr Kathleen Smith – lifts the lid (or should that be the seat?) on how valuable your poo-poos are. Dr Smith uses the word “poop” but, then again, she is an American.

To protect the delicate sensibilities of my readers, I have cleaned up her paper which talks about how wonderfully valuable our poop actually is.

It seems that our excreta contain gold, silver, platinum and lots of other valuable elements such as palladium and vanadium that are used in electronics and alloys. Mind you, Dr Smith hasn’t exactly suggested that folks should capture their waste and try to mine it at home. You will know that somebody has quite misunderstood her findings if you hear a frenzied cry of “there’s gold in them there poops” coming from the toilet.

She and her dedicated team collected a wide range of samples of well, you know what, and went to big cities, smalls towns and rural communities to get a representative collection. It’s dirty work but somebody has to do it.

“There are metals everywhere,” she said noting that they are “in your hair care products, detergents and even the nanoparticles that are put in socks to prevent bad odours. Whatever their origin, the wastes containing these metals all end up being funnelled through wastewater treatment plants and many metals end up in the leftover solid waste.

“At treatment plants, wastewater goes through a series of physical, biological and chemical processes and the end products are treated water and biosolids. More than seven million tons of biosolids are produced in the USA each year and about half of that is used as fertilisers while the other half is incinerated or sent to landfills,” she said.

I am wondering if, in a particularly messy divorce, if each partner would get half of the number twos produced by their ex for the rest of their lives. Some divorced folks I know would happily mail their entire excreta to their exes and even gift wrap it.

“We are interested in collecting valuable metals that could be sold and, to do this, we are taking a page from the industrial mining operations’ method book and are experimenting with some of the same chemicals called leachates which this industry uses to pull metals out of rock,” Dr Smith said.

You have to admire her and her team because nothing has been overlooked or studiously avoided. They have been using scanning electronic microscopes and, joy of joys, “The gold we found was at the level of a minimal mineral deposit,” Dr Smith said. If gold was in rock at that level it would be commercially mined.

Her ultimate dream? “If you can get rid of some of the nuisance metals that currently limit how much of these biosolids we can use on fields are forests and at the same time recover valuable metals, that’s a win-win situation,” she said.

There is absolutely no truth in the story that one researcher starting screaming “Eureka!” when a larger lump of gold turned up. Eventually, it was traced to a man in Montana who had swallowed his wedding ring.

But Dr Smith and her team are not the first American scientists to pursue this line of inquiry – another bunch has already calculated that the waste from one million people could contain as much as US$13 million in valuable metals.

Just think, the debts of small countries could be paid off very quickly if the entire population was afflicted with diarrhoea. Will Joe Hockey give the idea some thought?

As it happens, we have a utilities bill waiting to be paid and I am thinking about asking the outfit which is the so-called “service provider” to deduct from that bill the total value of two adults’ number twos which they could mine.

Frankly I am shitting a fortune as I am certainly a regular guy.


Will it all be worth it? Would you take a FIFO job in this mining boom? 

Russell Grenning

Russell Grenning is a Brisbane-based former journalist and retired political adviser who began his career with the ABC in 1968 in Brisbane and subsequently worked on the Brisbane afternoon daily, "The Telegraph" and later as a columnist for "The Courier Mail" and "The Australian". He worked for a string of senior Ministers in the Federal, Victorian and Queensland Governments as well as in senior executive public relations positions, including Assistant Federal Director, Public Relations, for Australia Post, Public Relations Manager for the Queensland Department of Main Roads and Principal Adviser, Corporate Relations, for the Queensland Law Society.

  1. I have dropped a bracelet down the toilet and also found one in a Hotel toilet,so could you return mine if you find it please.;-))

  2. Well, Melbourne Water’s Southeastern Purification Plant at Carrum has hills of dried sludge for prospectors to go through. Werribee Farm has filled-up lagoons full of the stuff ! There is no shortage of ‘stuff’ to experiment with.

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