Civil Agencies Should Save Millions by Recovering Silver From Photographic Wastes

PLRD-81-48: Published: Jul 31, 1981. Publicly Released: Jul 31, 1981.

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Many Government agencies continue to waste money and a valuable natural resource by discarding silver-laden photographic wastes. By using inexpensive and easy-to-operate equipment in their photographic laboratories, these agencies could recover silver that frequently is being poured down the drain. The Government saves money by recovering silver because its market value is far greater than the costs to recover it. GAO conducted a review to determine whether problems continued with ineffective or nonexistent silver recovery programs in Government agencies.

Since a 1977 GAO report, the Department of Defense (DOD) improved its recovery effort by 50 percent, while many civil agencies made few improvements. However, civil agencies could make a similar increase in savings if their recovery efforts improved. Of 44 laboratories which GAO reviewed, only 12 effectively recovered silver, 13 partially recovered silver, and 19 did not recover any silver at all. GAO believes that millions of dollars could be saved annually by starting or improving recovery at all locations. Most civil agencies do not adequately recover silver from photographic wastes because: (1) they must spend time and money to recover but receive no direct benefit since proceeds from silver sales are normally returned to the Treasury; (2) many laboratory personnel are not aware of the benefits of recovery; (3) managers do not emphasize recovery; and (4) the General Services Administration (GSA) has not fully supported the recovery program. Use of the existing DOD program by civil agencies would overcome most of the current problems. Civil agencies that join the system can save money by drawing silver from DOD and providing the silver as Government-furnished material to vendors supplying items containing silver. DOD will also advise civil agencies on appropriate recovery techniques, furnish recovery equipment, train agency personnel, and provide collection locations for recovered silver. Internal controls over recovered silver should be strengthened because of its high value and easy negotiability.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status:

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Recommendation: The Administrator of General Services should clarify the Federal property management regulations to emphasize that silver recovery is required in all Government photographic laboratories.

    Agency Affected: General Services Administration

  2. Status:

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Recommendation: The heads of Federal agencies should: (1) emphasize the importance of effective silver recovery to management officials having responsibility for photographic laboratories; (2) require periodic internal audits of photographic laboratories to identify waste and poor internal controls; and (3) join the DOD precious metals recovery program where this would be more cost effective than starting and maintaining their own programs.

    Agency Affected: Heads of Federal Agencies

  3. Status:

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should take the necessary actions to accommodate additional civil agencies desiring to join the DOD program.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense


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