Could streetsweepers strike gold on British streets?

One of the country’s biggest street cleaning firms has revealed plans to find over £1 million worth of materials from street sweepings.

Street sweepings have previously been sent to landfill or compost sites, however Veolia Environment Services believe they can filter this waste to find lucrative materials including platinum, palladium and rhodium.

The firm believe they can find over £1 million worth of materials from street sweepings. Credit: Veolia Environment Services

The firm are also confident of finding traces of gold and silver that has rubbed off clothes, shoes and jewellery in the sweepings.

The company believes they could obtain up to 1.2 tons of platinum and 1.4 tons of the highly-sought after material palladium - used in electronics, jewellery and hydrogen power cars - from the 440,000 tons of road sweepings collected annually across the UK.

The company collect around 165,000 tons of sweepings a year. Credit: Veolia Environment Services

In order to extract the valuable substances, the rubbish is filtrated and chemically washed at the country’s specialised extraction plant in Warwickshire.

The final separation of solids leaves a dust that offers the opportunity for precious metals recovery.

Extraction plant at Ling Hall, Warwickshire. Credit: Veolia Environment Services

Veolia Environment Services technical director Richard Kirkman said:

We’re developing a strategy of mining precious metals from street sweepings and to make this possible have opened a new facility at Ling Hall near Rugby which is part of our planned £1 billion investment in new UK facilities in the next six years to increase landfill diversion.

After removing materials like twigs, cans and plastics we are left with a fine black dust containing palladium, rhodium and platinum at levels they are found in the ore when it mined from the ground.

Across the UK, about 440,000t of street sweeping are collected annually. We believe up to 1.2t of platinum, 1.4t of palladium and 0.8t of rhodium could be recovered each year for use in jewellery and electronic equipment – all the more important given the impending scarcity of these precious metals.

– Richard Kirkman

The firm now plan to open up three new facilities around the UK to mine Britain’s street waste.