I think you’ll agree with me when I say that you wouldn’t want to wear a wedding ring or any piece of jewelry made with gold that has destroyed communities and ecosystems.
These days, many jewelers create their products with recycled gold. Recycled gold, they claim, will reduce mining and make a real difference to the environment.
Unfortunately, this claim is not true.
In this article you’ll discover inside information, which will most likely surprise you. Best of all, you’ll be able to cut through “ethical jewelry” propaganda.
Ultimately, you’ll learn how your purchase of truly ethical jewelry and wedding rings can empower grassroots economic development, and support an international movement that will transform the sourcing of jewelry.
Best of all, the heartfelt meaning of your gold jewelry or gold wedding rings will align with its sourcing.
- Recycled gold could be dirty or conflict gold because we really don\\\\\\\’t know where it comes from.
The most important question to ask your jeweler is, is this piece traceable from mine to market? And this definitely applies to jewelers who use recycled unique wedding rings as well.
With recycled precious metals, we, as jewelers, can only trace back to the recycled metal supply house. How was it mined?
We never know. It’s true origin might be the worst, most toxic gold mine in the world.
Once that gold is refined to its pure state, it is resold as “eco-friendly” recycled gold.
- No matter how much recycled gold we use in gold jewelry, it does not deter gold mining.
It’s true that in an ideal world, we would not need to mine anymore because we already have 167,700 tons of gold laying around mostly in bank vaults, electronics and jewelry.
Even today, according to the World Gold Council, recycled gold accounts for half of the world’s annual supply.
By recycling about 3% of the total amount of gold (of this 167,000 tons), we could satisfy all our annual needs. Alternatively, we could also get all the gold we need yearly by 5% of the already existing gold jewelry.
In theory, we could eliminate all mining as of today by striclty using recycled gold.
But, the problem is, mining takes place regardless of how much recycled gold goes into wedding rings.
It all depends upon the price of gold and the specific conditions at the mine.
Gold is an investment hedge. When the stock market is shaky or economies seem on the verge of recession, people flock to gold.
- The recycled gold “movement”, as an anti-mining deterrent, is an ethical façade not backed up by reality.
If there really was a connection between the use of recycled gold and mining, as some jewelers tell you, then they would be putting out letters like this on online petitions:
Dear Barrick Gold,
Congratulations! You’re the largest gold mining company in the world.
I just bought a recycled gold ring from Brilliant Earth. They told me that it would, “alleviate the devastating environmental impacts of gold mining.”
I am certain now that my eco-friendly purchase will inspire you to cease all operations immediately. To all the shareholders, who’ve invested billions in your company, thanks for taking the loss for the good of our Mother Earth!
Gold is like currency. Its value rises or falls based upon our economic climate, not how many gold wedding rings a company may or may not sell.
- The marketing of recycled gold as an eco-solution takes advantage of the ethically concerned consumers ignorance.
The more recycled paper we use, the less forests that are clear-cut. True. And recycled plastic bottles reduce the need for more oil. True.
Ergo, that the more gold we recycle, the less we’ll mine. False.
The loudest voice is Brilliant Earth, which gets over 800,000 visits a month on their website. They advocate recycled metals as part of their “movement” as the “global leader in ethically sourced finejewelry”.
On their April 2016 blog, 7 Reasons To Wear Recycled Gold Jewelry, they write: “On an individual level, you can alleviate the devastating environmental impacts of gold mining by choosing jewelry made with recycled gold.”
Jewelry companies have taken advantage of the recycled concept, which creates a halo effect on any product for the green customer, particularly in the US.
Recycled is great, but recycled gold as an eco-friendly solution is deceptive.
Let me be clear: There is nothing wrong with using recycled gold, for many jewelers it’s the best alternative option.
What is wrong is stating that you can “alleviate the devastating environmental impacts of gold mining.”
- Recycled gold, as an ethical choice, is a transitional solution for jewelers who cannot produce their product in Fairtrade metals.
Almost ten years ago, I was one of the first adopters of recycled metals for jewelry. At the time it was the only way I knew how to raise the profile of eco-sourcing in the jewelry sect
It all started with Earthworks “No Dirty Gold” in 2004. Concurrently, the blood diamond tragedy was gaining wide exposure as well. Jewelers and the public became more aware of ethical jewelry issues.
A few years later, Hoover and Strong, the most environmentally concerned jewelry supply house in the industry, began offering all its products in certified recycled gold.
These days, recycled precious metal is still a better solution that buying metal off the open market, because it raises the profile of ethical sourcing and in some cases, particularly in the US, it is the best alternative option.
The real change makers in the jewelry sector knew from the beginning that recycled metals were to be only a stepping stone, not a destination.
Recycled metals don’t do anything for the environment, but you can still make a difference.
There are three ways that you as a customer can impact mining in a very real way.
FIRST: You can Support Earthwork’s Initiative For Responsible Mining Assurance (IRMA).
Earth works is an environmental NGO (non-governmental organization) sponsoring IRMA. They are taking a radical centrism approach.
The basic idea is, let’s implement best mining practices and award them a certification from an environmental NGO that is known for their activities as an anti-mining watchdog.
SECOND: Support a jewelry company that is working to oppose large scale mining.
Toward the start of the campaign, gold was around $1800 an ounce. That high price of gold made it economically viable for the mining company, Santa Fe Gold, to pay for the electricity, water, and mining equipment necessary to crush 169 metric tons of rock to extract a single ounce of gold.
When gold dropped south of $1200, the mine was not as economically viable. Though we would have blocked the mine in court with the support of our friends at the New Mexico Environmental Law Center, eventually, the company went bankrupt.
It’s clear that in the case of large-scale mining, a recycled gold wedding ring purchase would not have helped my campaign.
THIRD: Reform Small Scale Mining Through Buying Fair Trade Gold. The most profound impact you as a jewelry customer can have is to support ethical small-scale mining.
- Fair Trade gold addresses serious economic issues that impact the small-scale miners and their communities.
While large-scale mines take place to enrich companies and their investors, small-scale miners dig because it is the only way to feed their families.
The lives of small-scale miners are characterized often by poverty, exploitation and unsafe practices.
The miner will sell that bit of gold to a trader for a few dollars, about 30% less than its true value to feed his/her family.
Thus, s/he’s caught in a poverty cycle no matter how hard s/he works.
With Fair Trade gold the miner is paid a fair market price.
Miners also receive social premiums of $2000 per kilo produced, which is then used to improve the quality of life, such as new schools, clinics and/or elderly care.
- Fair Trade gold addresses serious environmental and health issues that impact the small-scale miners and their communities.
The photo above shows the process common with millions of small scale gold miners around the world, mixing mercury and gold with unprotected hands.
My brother who is a high school science teacher tells me that if a mercury thermometer were to break in his class, a HAZMAT team would be called in.
It gets even worse.
He will take the remnants of his gold and mercury and burn it off in his kitchen frying pan in order to separate the mercury from the gold. This creates methyl mercury, one of the most dangerous neurotoxins known.
Small-scale mining is the largest contributor to global mercury contamination in the environment.
This mercury poisons future generations. (I’m seeing this first hand from my involvement in legacy California mining.)
- Your purchase of a Fairtrade gold wedding ring makes a real difference for small-scale miners.
Fair Trade gold comes from certified small-scale mining communities. Miners are taught to mine gold within internationally accepted Fairtrade standards and principles.
They are taught to use mercury safely and given strong incentives to eliminate its use completely.
Plus, they are empowered. It gives them and their families the opportunity to be paid a fair price and build their futures, investing in schools, better working conditions and improved healthcare.
Just like Fairtrade has changed consumer perception and consciousness around coffee, chocolate and bananas, Fair Trade gold will one day alter how people view jewelry.
- Small-scale mining through Fairtrade requires less waste than large-scale mining to produce gold for a wedding ring.
How much mining waste do womens wedding ring generate? It depends on the size of the ring, the karat of gold and the mine conditions. Conditions can vary tremendously, but large-scale mines are more wasteful.
Large mining operations can crush over 160 tons of rock to get an ounce of gold. That means the gold used to create a single wedding ring might generate 100,000 pounds of mine tailings (waste).
Small scale mining often takes place in areas where there is an ounce of gold per ton of dirt. That means the gold used to create a Fair Trade gold wedding ring might cause a mere 500 pounds of mine tailings (waste), in comparison to the 100,000 lbs from conventional large-scale mines.
- Recycled Gold Advocacy as an Eco-Solution Damages Advocacy For Real Change.
Given what we know about recycled gold, large scale mining and fairtrade gold, we can now know that promoting recycled metals as optimal eco-friendly choice negatively impacts those who are truly trying to reform the small mining through Fair Trade community empowerment.
Consumers who could be real advocates for change are deceived into believing they are making a difference to the environment when actually they are not.
- Fair Trade Gold Jewelry Deals with Issues on the Ground Directly, with Viable Solutions.
The real criteria for ethical gold and gems must be based by their positive impact for producer communities, both environmentally and socially.
Impoverished producer communities are going to mine because it is the only way for them to survive. So, any real ethics must be based upon working with these communities.
Advocacy of recycled gold and synthetic gems, including lab grown diamonds, as responsible jewelry choices bypass issues of poverty, exploitation, and inequitable relationships between the consumers and producer communities.
This is also true for vintage rings, which has no social or environmental benefit.
- When you believe the purchase of recycled metals makes a difference, you are supporting a disturbing bait and switch among corporate jewelers.
These days, because the supply of recycled metals is so easy, any jeweler can do it. In fact, the largest jewelry supply house has made it central to their ethical sourcing platforms.
This is not necessarily bad. But it is another example of how jewelry companies create the façade of eco and social responsibility through marketing while changing nothing that impacts their bottom line.
Want more examples of this endemic bait and switch? See my critiques of the so called “conflict free” Kimberley Certification Process, Part 1 and Part 2 or Earthwork’s critique of the Responsible Jewelry Council.
Most disturbing of all is the “conflict free” narrative associated with diamonds. Can we have conflict free, or go beyond conflict free, in our marketing of diamonds without restitution and reconciliation to the 3 million Africans that were killed in wars funded by the diamond trade?
It seems to show that African black lives don’t matter.
These days, the major supply houses in the US allow any jeweler to produce their lines in recycled metals without difficulty.
Any jewelry company with a web and PR team and marketing can produce an “eco-friendly” recycled gold jewelry line in their sleep.
- Fair Trade Gold is Better than Recycled Gold Because it Represents Real Change: A Traceable and Transparent Connection from the Jeweler Back to the Mine.
It is obvious how powerful Fair Trade gold can be in the market.
Yet finding a way to make our jewelry with Fair Trade gold is risky, expensive, and nearly impossible, because we have no supply house in the US.
From a business point of view, it makes little sense.
From an ethical point of view, it is the only choice.
That is why my company, Reflective Images Jewelry (and as of Aug. 2016) is still the only Fair Trade gold jeweler in the US.
However, because we have no American-based supply chain, we are transitioning from recycled gold to Fair Trade gold.
Fortunately, through the world’s top global activist, Greg Valerio, who started the Fair Trade gold movement, has joined us and we offer his complete Fair Trade gold line to American consumers.
Fair Trade Gold Is The Most Precious Gold In The World
Only Fair Trade, one of the most respected global brands, has the power to change how jewelry is perceived in the US market.
Only a Fair Trade movement in jewelry can create massive change, just as it has done with coffee, chocolate and bananas.
- The people of the land must benefit from the resources of their land.
Small-scale miners supply about 15% of the world’s gold supply chain, but are 90% of the world’s gold mining labor. Digging with shovels they might get an ounce of gold from a ton of dirt.
Imagine all the local economic development, including the reduction of poverty and mercury possible if Fair Trade gold caught on in the USA, the largest jewelry market in the world.
- Fair Trade gold is the best model for jewelry that brings social, environmental and economic justice.
We need solutions that create regenerative economic models that by, increasing the right kind of business, a business that empowers local economy.
Join the Fair Trade gold movement. Ask your jeweler to make your jewelry out of Fair Trade gold.
Jess Gantos is the US based Brand Ambassador for Reflective Images Jewelry. The company designs and creates wedding rings, engagement rings and jewelry in their Santa Fe, New Mexico studio. Reflective Images specializes in handmade, ethically sourced designer jewelry and is the first Fairtrade Gold jeweler in the USA.This author has published 9 articles so far.