Socially and Environmentally Conscious Jewelry

July 6, 2011 View all articles in General

Having a jewelry addiction in this day and age is unremarkable. The social and environmental impacts of metal, diamond, and gemstone mining, however: now those are issues that could use more awareness. There are enough already-mined materials available to satisfy the jewelry industry's demand, and even your own shopping addition, for at least the next fifty years. Keep reading to find out how you can buy fair trade, environmentally sustainable, eco-friendly, conflict-free jewelry you can wear with a clear conscience.

METAL MINING

It is estimated that in the United States each year, gold mining produces one billion tons of waste rock and one billion tons of milled ore. And it takes 20 tons of waste rock and toxic tailings to produce 1 ounce of gold. Gold mining also leads to acid mine drainage (AMD), which is the production of acidic water from sulfide materials, water, air, and bacteria. When this AMD is released from active and inactive mines, it travels underground and pollutes municipal water supplies with poisonous heavy metals such as arsenic, lead, and mercury. AMD also harms birds and other local wildlife that drink the water.

Solutions

  • More and more jewelry retailers are signing on to Oxfam and Earthworks' “Golden Rules,” which calls for mining reforms that protect communities and the environment from destructive practices ( NoDirtyGold.org).
  • Recycled gold, silver, and platinum are growing in popularity. This method of melting down jewelry to create new pieces is increasing consumer awareness of mining's impacts and is leading to a renewed interest.
  • Our blog post on Fired Elements Art Jewelry explains how Anthony Gallaher is putting this “recycled jewelry” method to use.

DIAMOND MINING

Open-pit mining involves blasting a large area, stripping it of its vegetation and trees, and leaving the land severely degraded and devastated. On average, 250 tons of ore are dug up, processed, and carved; but only 20 percent of the raw gems are considered good enough to wear. Alluvial diamonds are carved out of riverbeds, destroying river bottom ecosystems, while other types of diamonds are mined from the ocean floor itself. In addition to the disastrous environmental impacts of diamond mining, about 49 percent of the world's diamonds are mined in impoverished African nations.

Solutions

  • Ask jewelers to provide a “Certificate of Origin” to confirm the diamonds came from government-controlled areas where conflict diamond mining is not an issue.
  • If a certificate of origin isn't available, find out which company supplies the store's stones and research that particular supplier's environmental standards and policies before purchasing.
  • If your jeweler sells African diamonds, ask for the supplier's name and if they can provide a Kimberley Process Certification Scheme (KPCS) Certificate of Origin. This isn't a completely foolproof option, but a KPCS certificate does help lower the chances of you inadvertently purchasing a conflict diamond.
  • Brilliant Earth uses recycled gold and platinum for its Canadian gems and fair-trade diamonds mined by Pride Diamonds in Sierra Leone.
  • Leber Jeweler has an Earthwise collection that follows similar standards.
  • Lab-grown or cultured diamonds are man-made high-pressure, high-heat creations that start from a real diamond “seed” and end up being optically and physically the same as real gems. Find them at DiamondsCultured.com or DiamondNexusLabs.com.

GEMSTONE MINING

Gems have equally sordid pasts to diamonds, and are often traded along with guns and drugs. Many countries, including the US, have banned or boycotted all Burmese goods, saying that buying them only validates and funds a brutal military dictatorship.

Solutions

  • Columbia Gem House is a fair-trade company that does its own mining, cutting, and marketing.
  • GreenKarat offers a good selection of wedding bands made with recycled gold and platinum, and custom-make rings with lab-grown diamonds, fair-trade or recycled stones, or even petrified wood.
  • Eco-Artware uses a selection of reused, recycled, and natural materials to make its earrings and necklaces.
  • Moonrise Jewelry's work/training program promotes the empowerment of women of all backgrounds and its Premier Eco-Jewelry collection is made with fair-trade gems, ecologically mined materials, and recycled metals.

ECO-FRIENDLY JEWELRY BUYING TIPS

  • As with clothing, the key to sustainability is buying quality pieces that are made to last through more than one season, and looking for materials that don't require the use of nonrenewable resources such as plastic.
  • You can always find handmade jewelry at craft fairs and specialty boutiques, where the pieces are made from salvaged materials such as sea glass, recycled glass, seashells, various seeds and nuts, and carved reclaimed wood.
  • Visit your local antique markets and vintage shops. They're filled with loads of one-of-a-kind rings, bracelets, and brooches that are footprint-free (no mining and no refining)
  • Find more fair-trade jewelry at MercadoGlobal.org, TenThousandVillages.com, and GlobalExchangeStore.org.
  • World of Good distributes the works of 133 artisan groups in thirty-one countries.
  • Sarah Hood makes exotic bracelets and necklaces out of natural elements like leaves, pods, and acorns.

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