Is recycled gold the best we can do?
Why Recycled Gold is the least we can do, and Fairtrade Gold is the best we can do.
Reduce, reuse, and recycle is something most millennials and beyond can attest to hearing constantly at school, in the media, and at work. Using less is always a great way to reduce our impact on the environment - there is no question. So when jewellers mention that an item is made out of recycled gold - that’s great, right?
Well, kind of. Here’s what we mean.
As gold is a high value item that can easily be melted down into other things, it’s an ideal material for recycling. Some believe that it’s best if no further ore were to be mined, and we rely completely on the recycling process for new gold materials.
And while this sounds easy, there are two huge issues with this stance.
- There’s a lack of data that backs up the claim that the process of recycling gold creates less emissions or environmental impact than the process of mining itself (Miller, 2021).
- This stance fails to address the entire industry that exists globally of artisanal and small-scale gold miners who rely on the gold-mining industry for their income.
- Recycled gold is not ethical gold, and ethical gold should be the standard.
Let’s unpack these issues a bit more.
A lot of ethical jewellers use the fact that some percentage of their work contains recycled metals as a marketing talking point. While this may seem like an amazing claim, the reality is that the entire jewellery industry is using primarily recycled metals in their work, and have been for years. The recycling system in North America for precious metals is a multi-billion dollar industry, and is the #1 supplier of the gold and silver used in jewellery components. Jewellers buy gold, and then send back scraps for cash. Doing so doesn’t make your business more ethical, it simply means your business is participating in the recycling system that’s already in place.
You can’t claim that your recycled gold is ethical simply because it’s recycled. The gold recycled to then become jewellery components is not always from jewellery originally, and the gold that’s melted down for jewellery can come from almost anywhere. This means that there’s almost no way of knowing where the gold used originally comes from, when it entered the system, and whether it originally fueled conflict. There are almost certainly conflict metals used in traditional gold recycling, so recycled gold can’t be considered conflict-free or ethical. It’s simply recycled.
It’s an easy sell to customers that using recycled metals is “better” than the alternative. However, most people don’t know what the alternative is, or worse, assume the alternative is contributing to human suffering and climate change. We want to tell you about alternatives that are possible, better for all involved, and are considerably more ethical. There are alternatives that allow artisanal and small-scale miners to mine precious metals without mercury, cyanide, and other typical environmental concerns, allow them to be paid a fair price for their gold, and give you the peace of mind of knowing where your gold came from.
Welcome, fairtrade and fairmined gold and precious metals.
What is fairmined?
Essentially, it’s a standard and assurance program that guarantees the precious metal meets certain criteria. Fairmined focuses on two pillars: transparency and assurance. The extraction of these precious metals should ensure community and social development, and the gold is extracted in an environmentally sensitive and fair labour way. Read more about Fairmined gold here: https://fairmined.org/the-fairmined-standard/
What is fairtrade?
Fairtrade gold and precious metals are assured by a single body with a specific registration process for miners with regular inspections. Fairtrade is certainly more rigorous than fairmined, but we also know that bureaucratic hurdles can negatively impact artisanal and small-scale miners in the developing world. Read more about fair trade gold and precious metals here: https://files.fairtrade.net/standards/2015-04-15_EN_Gold-and-Precious_Metals.pdf
We think that the best alternative to focusing only on recycled gold is to continue precious metal mining under ethical and environmentally conscious circumstances. Doing so creates work and adds economic value to local people and communities, while still managing environmental concerns. Jewellers can add additional levels of transparency to their products, and customers can feel confident that their beautiful piece doesn’t have a dark past.
We’re excited to announce that we have added fairmined/fairtrade gold & silver to our 2022 ethical roadmap. We’re excited to grow in this area, and we know the more demand there is for ethical products, the easier this will be for all of us. We invite you to follow along the journey and to stay aware of what you’re purchasing. We’re on this learning journey with you, and we can’t wait to see where it takes us.