The secret weapon against electronic waste just may be cheese.

Or, technically, it’s the byproduct of cheesemaking known as whey protein.

A team out of ETH Zurich has developed a way to use the stuff to recover gold from old computer parts.

First, they do some chemistry all around the whey proteins to create a kind of sponge full of small protein fibers.

Then, after they’ve put old computer motherboards into an acid bath, they drop in the sponge.

The gold ions stick to the sponge but most of the other metal ions in the bath don’t.

Then, they heat the sponge and all that’s left are the gold flakes.

In testing, the research team was able to recover 450 milligrams from 20 motherboards.

The material was 91 percent gold and 9 percent copper.

Best of all, they found that the costs of this method were half the value of the gold they recovered, which means it’s economically workable.

And it’s a less energy intensive and more eco-friendly way to recover gold than the methods used in e-recycling already.

That means this cheese-based gold recovery system is… gold.

Starting tomorrow in Nashville, Indiana, it’s the Indiana Button Society Show & Competition.

The event typically features buttons of every shape and size, some really elaborate items and of course plenty of antique clothing buttons for sale.

And there’s a theme this year, “Around the World of Buttons in 80+ Years.”

To win the Indiana Button Society Award, you can present a set of buttons that include “pictorials representing countries around the world. Include at least 3 but no more than 5, from at least 5 different continents.”

Turning waste into gold (ETH Zurich)

Indiana State Button Society Annual Button Show

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Photo courtesy ETH Zurich / Alan Kovacevic