Everyday enviro with Elise: ethical metal

Everyday enviro with Elise: ethical metal

    By Elise Catterall  January 25th, 2021

    Have you ever wondered where your jewellery comes from? Elise investigates the impacts of extracting precious metals and suggests sustainable alternatives.


    This Christmas, jewellery was on my shopping list. I had the idea that a high quality, heirloom piece in silver or gold that was beautiful and meaningful was the perfect, perfectly sustainable gift for a loved one.

    In my search for the perfect item, I started researching jewellery — especially how it is sourced and made — and I started learning more about the ethics and sustainability of precious metals, specifically gold and silver. All of a sudden, my simple sustainable gift idea became a whole lot more complicated.

    What I learned is that, essentially, anything extracted from the earth for our benefit has major issues. And gold and silver are no different. When it comes to the environmental impacts of mining those metals, we’re talking about CO2 emissions, water usage, heavy metal release and impact on biodiversity. And then there are the human rights and child labour issues, which may not affect every mine, but are definitely problems associated with the industry.

    Around 80 per cent of mined gold and over a quarter of mined silver is used for jewellery manufacture, so buying jewellery can be an ethical minefield, even if you are investing in forever pieces.

    The good news is there is a growing awareness about these issues, and now a trend for jewellers, large and small, to be transparent in their processes and to make ethical jewellery. One of the main ways they do so is through the use of recycled gold and silver. 

    Both gold and silver can be recycled forever without losing any quality and, by recycling these metals, not only is the demand for virgin metals reduced but preowned metals don’t end up in landfill. Recycled metals can come from a range of sources — jewellery, cutlery, electronics, dental fillings and even x-rays.

    While many small makers have embraced recycled metals (just do a search on Etsy and you’ll see what I mean) some of the world’s biggest jewellers have too. Pandora — the world’s largest jewellery maker by volume — have committed to using 100 per cent recycled gold and silver by 2025. The iconic Tiffany & Co., though not solely using recycled gold or silver, does rate above other jewellery brands in regards to ethics and sustainability, according to a recent a Human Rights Watch report.

    Having two of the world’s largest jewellery makers embrace sustainability is a huge thing and is bound to encourage other companies to follow suit. Until it becomes mainstream however, here are some things to look for when you’re buying jewellery:

    • Makers who proudly and transparently source and produce fair-trade, sustainable pieces

    • Makers who use as high a proportion of recycled materials as possible (ideally 100 per cent) and work with metal from certified merchants

    • Locally-sourced materials

    • Products that are made to order, to avoid waste

    • Makers who also use sustainable packaging for their pieces

    You could also consider just buying a piece that is outright vintage, or even use your own old pieces to turn into something new — the perfect closed loop! Whichever route you choose, you can be sure you can have something beautiful that will stand the test of time and not cost the earth.

    Positive Environment News has been compiled using publicly available information. Planet Ark does not take responsibility for the accuracy of the original information and encourages readers to check the references before using this information for their own purposes.


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    Elise Catterall

    Elise is a writer, photographer, and naturopath with a passion for nature. She completed a Master of Public Health in 2017 through the University of Sydney. Her photographic work focuses on flowers and plants as a way of celebrating nature. She has been writing for Planet Ark since 2017, sharing positive environment stories, personal environmental experiences and perspectives.

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