This One Industry You’ve Never Heard of Is Crucial to the Global Economy

Lots of industries fly under the radar, free of the glitz, glamor and attention that higher-profile enterprises earn.

That doesn’t mean these industries are any less important than their better-known counterparts, nor that they’re any less likely to attract the best and brightest employees. In fact, some of the most creative entrepreneurs in the world find opportunities where others see only chaos — or, more likely, nothing at all.

Read on to learn about what this one weird industry you’ve almost certainly never heard of does each and every day for the global economy — and don’t forget to pull it out at your next cocktail party.

You Can Make Money From That?

The industry: catalytic converter recycling.

The opportunity: extracting precious metals — palladium, platinum, rhodium — from spent catalytic converters.

The process: harvesting catalytic converters from old cars, trucks, heavy machinery, and other combustion-powered vehicles, then using proprietary methods to extract trace amounts of high-value precious metals for processing and recycling.

The outcome: a win-win-win for scrap dealers, recyclers, and the environment.

Catalytic converters, which reduce particulate emissions and play a crucial role in mitigating air pollution, have been around since the mid-1970s. However, for much of that time, they’ve been one-trick ponies. Once they reached the end of their useful lives, much of their mass was discarded: an ironic turn for devices designed to mitigate pollution, and a huge waste of the considerable but hard-to-access volumes of precious metals contained within them.

Today, catalytic converters are like any other recyclable product: much of their mass is re-used, including their most valuable components, which support a vibrant secondary market that adds untold value to the global economy.

Finding Opportunity in Uncertainty

The pace of change is accelerating, there’s no question about it. Even smart, hard-working entrepreneurs are rightfully worried that what’s working for them today won’t work for them down the road — or, heck, right around the corner.

Change can come in many different forms: innovations that render lucrative processes obsolete, automation that displaces human employees, political shifts that can upend international marketing calculations and even unfounded disputes over managerial decision-making.

The beauty in catalytic converter recycling and other under-the-radar enterprises is that they’re essential to the smooth functioning of the global economy. Absent a fundamental reordering of human behavior and social organization, precious metals will retain their intrinsic value indefinitely — meaning there’s always likely to be a market for them. And that means there’s always likely to be a market for extracting them from spent auto parts, even in the tiniest quantities.

Other Weird and Wonderful Industries

Handpan

photo credit: Ian Sane / Flickr

Why stop now that you’ve got the metal recycling part of your cocktail party script down pat? There are plenty of other wild and crazy industries out there, most operating so far under the radar that they’re practically underground. Here’s a tantalizing sampling:

  • The Handpan: Sounds gross. Is beautiful. Back in 2014, The Atlantic wrote at length about this strange and wonderful musical instrument.
  • Professional Mourners: Professional mourners shore up the ranks of the bereaved when they’re needed most.
  • Professional Bridesmaids: The near-inverse of professional mourning is professional wedding-partying. If you don’t have enough eligible bridesmaids, never fear: your full-sized wedding party is just a call away.
  • Snake Milkers: Venomous snakes harbor a valuable commodity: their own venom, which is used to make antivenom and other medicinal products. This job isn’t quite as dangerous as it sounds, but it’s extremely tedious and hard to automate.
  • Mystery Shopping: Mystery shopping actually comes in two flavors: undercover shopping, and literally buying something without first knowing what it is. Business News Daily reports on a company that sells mystery items (“somethings”) for $10 flat.

Who said business was boring, anyway?

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