Published on December 17th, 2007 | by Stephanie Evans10
Glamorous gems, shiny silver, glitzy gold—how can we feel free to flash these around when so many bear the mark of harm to humanity and our planet? Fortunately for us, today there are many ethical and ecologically responsible alternatives to jewelry that is sourced in destructive and unsustainable ways.
A new market has emerged for jewelry made from recycled precious metals and synthetic gems, in addition to a plethora of unique, handcrafted jewelry made from such things as recycled glass, post-consumer plastic, and natural materials.
Wearing jewelry has played an invaluable role in human society for centuries. Jewelry objects have been found in pre-historic Africa that date back as far as 75,000 years. The importance of jewelry to humans, as either ornament, amulet, or symbol of wealth, remains consistent in practice to this day. But the modern-day reality of the cost of our love for adornment is grim, to say the least. Silver and gold mining processes over the last century have devastated thousands of miles of waterways and ecosystems. Diamond mining and “blood diamond” export are responsible for heinous crimes to humanity through wars funded by illegal sales.
Today’s jewelry industry derives most of its revenues from diamonds, gemstones such as sappires, rubies, and opals, and precious metals such as gold, silver, and copper. Mining the earth for these precious stones and metals is an environmentally harmful and obscenely wasteful practice.
Mining produces twice the amount of hazardous garbage as all other human activities combined. The average gold ring, weighing about 1/3 of an ounce, generates 20 tons of waste! In addition, gold mining techniques generate toxic waste that poses long-lived environmental hazards to air, water, and soil.
Industrial methods of extracting precious metals have poisoned countless wildlife populations and affected the health of communities that are located in nearby vicinities. The routine use of cyanine and mercury to separate gold from rock over the last century has left a devastating toxic mess in its wake. Spills, accidents, and acidic mine drainage have released tons of cyanide waste into U.S. rivers, wiping out entire populations of wildlife in some cases.
Heap leaching technology, a process that involves scooping out heaps of mountainside and then pouring cyanide over it to dissolve the microscopic particles of gold imbedded in the rock, devastates the land and creates massive holes—some large enough to be seen from space! Because the heap leaching process is cheap, it continues to be used in spite of the environmental consequences it levies.
Meanwhile, half a million abandoned mines in the American West continue to drain acid-water runoff into nearby lakes and streams. Cleaning up these messes is difficult and costly, and some experts speculate that, in spite of cleanup efforts, the water quality of some of these sites will not be restored to normal for hundreds of years.
What is Ecologically Responsible Jewelry?
When searching for eco alternatives to conventional jewelry, the more research you do into the sourcing, labor, and environmental practice involved in the manufacture of your precious gem or metal, the better. While efforts are under way to bring fair trade practices to the jewelry industry, a “fair trade jewelry” designation doesn’t guarantee anything certifiably specific.
The endeavors of artisans and jewelers to supply us with eco alternatives to traditional jewelry continue to help implement the widespread change necessary for a sustainable jewelry industry.
To find a few companies that are truly dedicated to sustainable jewelry practice, visit the Fair Trade Jewelry site operated my Marc Choyt. Choyt’s post, entitled Radical Transparency and Green, Ethical Sources in the Jewelry Industry Part 2: Who’s Doing it Right, lists several environmentally and socially responsible resources for familiarizing yourself with credible companies with which you may want to do business.
No Dirty Gold
The No Dirty Gold campaign (its motto being “The more you know, the less gold glows”) was launched to educate consumers about the environmental and economic impact of gold mining. Its goal is to urge mining corporations to produce gold more responsibly, by respecting basic human rights and labor standards as well as protecting oceans, rivers, lakes, and streams from mining wastes. You can learn more about dirty gold and sign the “no dirty gold” pledge.
Eight of the world’s top jewelry retailers have pledged to end “dirty” gold sales and are working with mining corporations producing gold in more sustainable ways. These retailers, supported by the No Dirty Gold campaign, are: Zale Corp., the Signet Group Tiffany & Co., Helzberg Diamonds, Fortunoff, Cartier, Piaget, and Van Cleef & Arpels.
While these retailers provide a newly minted alternative to dirty gold, buying recycled gold is an even more responsible choice that you can make. According to greenKarat, an eco-friendly jewelry company dedicated to implementing change in the jewelry industry, there is more than enough already mined gold to satisfy jewelry demands for the next 50 years. Gold mining does not have to continue at the rate that it does now—2,500 tons a year!
Worldwide production of mined silver is also rising. As a consumer, you can help reduce the need for raw material by purchasing recycled gold and silver jewelry. By purchasing an antique or vintage piece, you not only possess something beautifully unique, but you have also used your consumer buying power to prompt less mining.
The majority of recycled jewelry made today is handmade. Many beautiful pieces, from recycled metal jewelry to handmade wood jewelry, are created using objects and materials that would otherwise end up in a landfill. One of the best places on the internet that provides artisans a space to showcase their handmade artwork is Etsy. Every store on Etsy is stocked and maintained by an individual storekeeper, so you can find a tremendous variety of fashionable, one-of-a-kind rings, earrings, handmade beaded bracelets, and unique necklaces in one convenient place. The endeavors of artisans and jewelers to supply us with eco alternatives to traditional jewelry continue to help implement the widespread change necessary for a sustainable jewelry industry.
Article Contributors: Julie Reid