Not many people know the environmental impacts jewelry has on the environment as it is not spoken about often. The more our population is increasing, our demand for resources such as land, water food, clothing and in this case jewelry, increases too. The earth is being depleted of these resources and the destruction that is occurring through the processes to get the resources are becoming very apparent. Attention must be made to this topic as well as spreading information about what we can all do to help.
How does jewelry affect the environment?
Gold mining is the most environmentally cost worthy resource when it comes to jewelry. The extraction of gold affects our planet in numerous ways, through emitting greenhouse gases, water pollution, and soil erosion.
The chemical or toxin, Cyanide is used to extract gold from its core. It is a very environmentally costly process, in fact, according to Dr. Gunthrie, dean of International Business and Management at the George Washington University School of Business, stated that ‘20 tons of waste are produced for every ounce of gold’.
Additionally, mercury occurs naturally in the earth and is a liquid metal. Most mercury forms in a sulfide ore called cinnabar. To separate the mercury from the cinnabar is to crush the ore and heat it in order to vaporize the mercury. This vapor is then condensed into liquid mercury form. If done improperly, mercury vapor, which is highly toxic, can escape into the atmosphere. It releases hundreds of tonnes of airborne elemental mercury every year.
Erosion from this process clogs streams and rivers and can lead to taint ecosystems. This contamination impacts biodiversity, with cyanide causing a direct lethal effect on biota close to the source and metal contaminants which considerably reduces aquatic biodiversity further downstream.
Additionally, gold mining is at fault for high levels of deforestation, destroying remote areas rich in biodiversity. It practically obliterates the natural landscape. The largest gold mine is now a crater in Utah which is so large that it can be seen from outer space!
Other jewelry such as silver, is a byproduct of the industrial mining of other metals such as copper, zinc, and gold, so has similar environmental consequences.
Overall, gold is a very environmentally destructive, resource. But jewelry has been a part of many cultures for hundreds of years all over the world so it is not given up easily.
Gold mining is severely
and precious water.
The Gold Mine: Africa
Africa contains 30% of the world’s minerals so it is literally a gold mine when it comes to resources for jewelry such as silver, diamonds, gold, and other platinum-group metals. Because of Africa’s potential, large interest from foreign investors (China, Australia, Canada) is being made to mine there. Yet with less than 5% of global mineral exploitation has occurred in Africa, and large parts of the continent being geologically unexplored, the potential for growth is enormous (Taylor et al. 2009).
This enormous increase in mining will have detrimental effects on the natural environment, as mining can directly remove fragment, or degrade natural habitat, destroying as much as 1-12km squared depending on the mineral being mined.
Additionally, the expansion of roads, and railways, for transport to move commodities, from mine to smelters, as well as shipping ports for exports and hydroelectric dams is one of the biggest threats to natural habitats and wildlife populations, and will increase access to some of the world’s most biodiverse ecosystems, including the eastern Congo rainforests, the Miombo and Guinea woodlands, and the Rift valley savannas and mountains (Edwards et.al., 2013).
Mining could provide poverty alleviation opportunities and enhancement of sustainable practices as well as implement environmental protection standards, but such positive outcomes seem unlikely due to Africa’s corruption and weak governance (Edwards et.al., 2013).
Eco-friendly, Organic Jewelry
There are companies that have sustainable jewelry such as Grazza Portugal
Did you know you can make jewelry from cork?!
Cork is the bark of the cork oak (Quercus suber L.) which means the material used for this jewelry is 100% natural, organic, sustainable, handmade, biodegradable and eco-friendly.
This tree, also called Sobreiro, is found in Portugal where these oaks can live up to 200 years old and can be harvested up to 12 times during its lifetime. The European cork industry produces 300,000 tonnes of cork a year, with a value of €1.5 billion and employing 30,000 people.
Wearing and supporting businesses that promote the use of sustainable and eco-friendly jewelry is doing a world of good for the earth and its resources. Not only that, but this jewelry looks gorgeous and trendy!
Thank you for reading and I hope you learned a thing or two. Please feel free to comment below any thoughts you have about this topic, I would love to hear from you!
The Earth Co.
Taylor, C.D., Schulz, K.J., Doebrich, J.L., et al. 2009 ‘Geology and nonfuel mineral deposits of Africa and the Middle East.U.S.’ Geological Survey, California.
David, P, Edwards, D, P, Sloan, S, Weng, L, Dirks, P, Sayer, J & Laurence, W, F, 2013 ‘Mining and the African Environment’, Policy Perspective, pp. 302-311, doi: 10.1111/conl.12076