Another week, another blog post about Christmas shopping! What can I say? I’m doing my part to boost the economy as well as advocate for the environment. If you’ve already stocked the Christmas tree with gifts of bamboo clothing and bamboo sheets but are still in need of something shiny for that someone special, perhaps jewelry is the answer!
When most hear the term eco-friendly jewelry, the immediate thought is either vintage or rings, necklaces and earrings made from recycled materials. However, when purchasing new stones, particularly diamonds, the word eco-friendly becomes a holistic approach that addresses both the practices used to obtain such stones and the impact that mining has on the local communities. It’s important to look for conflict free and free trade diamonds and insist that jewelers verify the complete chain of custody of their stones, from harvesting to finish.
Jewelers are also working to address the issue of “dirty mining” of precious metals, particularly gold. Traditional mining techniques have evolved into open pit mining, heap leaching and amalgamation.
With open-pit mining, companies save the time of building underground shafts and simply blast the entire surface of the mining area creating massive craters and damaging the surrounding eco-system. Additionally, of the large amount of materials brought to the surface for gold-hunting are for the most part worthless. Finding an ounce of gold via open-pit mining can result in 30 tons of mine waste.
Heap leaching is a particularly toxic way to extract gold from ore. Ore is crushed and piled into heaps and then sprayed with cyanide, an incredibly toxic substance, that seeps through the ore and bonds with the gold. The gold-cyanide combo is then shuffled to a mill where the two are chemically separated. The cyanide is then kept in an artificial pond for re-use while the ore waste is piled into an unofficial dam of sorts. These dams are not only toxic but highly unstable.
As if it couldn’t get any worse, the third common practice, amalgamation, uses mercury to form an alloy with the gold. That alloy is then broken apart with the use of nitric acid which releases mercury vapor into the environment. The side effects of mercury vapor on humans and animals? Damage to the kidneys, brain, liver, heart, lungs, colon and immune system.
Just as with diamond mining, gold mining also raises fair trade and human rights concerns as workers are often exploited and indigenous communities relocated in the quest for gold.
Much like soda cans and old t-shirts can be recycled into jewelry, so can gold. Eco-friendly jewelers look to recycled jewelry and industrial products for their gold sources. It’s also important to look for the “fair trade” label on any gold purchase you make this holiday season. Savvy consumers can also ask if jewelers are Green Circle Certified, meaning that a third-party has verified the gold is indeed made of 100% post-consumer recycled content.
And, of course we would encourage that shoppers consider bamboo jewelry. And with this post, I promise, no more Christmas shopping tips until the 2012 holiday season!