Recycled vs. “Dirty” Gold: What You Should Know

November 30th, 2008
Hewn pendant necklaces by Jennifer Dawes of Dawes Design. According the the designer's website, she uses recycled gold, and responsibly mined, conflict-free gemstones

Hewn pen­dant neck­laces by Jen­nifer Dawes of Dawes Design. Accord­ing the the designer’s web­site, she uses recy­cled gold, and respon­si­bly mined, conflict-free gemstones

Jew­el­ers have always recy­cled gold. It has intrin­sic value, so no one sim­ply tosses this pre­cious metal into the trash bin. Those who wish to part with old pieces sell them to local retail­ers or metal refin­ers who weigh each item and pay cash for the per­cent­age of pure gold present (note: pure gold is 24K, any­thing less, ie 10K, 14K, and 18K, is a per­cent­age of pure gold mixed with other, less valu­able met­als– this is called an alloy)

Gen­er­ally speak­ing, most con­sumers are not aware of the ori­gin of the gold in their jew­elry. How­ever, media atten­tion is focus­ing on the harm­ful effects of uneth­i­cal min­ing on com­mu­ni­ties and the envi­ron­ment, and the term “dirty” gold gets its moniker from such prac­tices. Crit­ics say that a sin­gle band of gold leaves behind more than twenty tons of mine waste. Some of this is sim­ply rock, how­ever, other toxic met­als and acid are also exposed and these can leach into ground­wa­ter cre­at­ing a dan­ger­ous health haz­ard to wild as well as human life. Con­cerned jew­elry man­u­fac­tur­ers and design­ers are exam­in­ing their gold sources far more closely, and some have joined the “No Dirty Gold” cam­paign founded by EARTHWORKS, a non-profit orga­ni­za­tion ded­i­cated to pro­tect­ing com­mu­ni­ties and the envi­ron­ment from the destruc­tive impacts of min­eral devel­op­ment, in the U.S. and worldwide.

There are those who mar­ket their recycled-gold use as bet­ter for the envi­ron­ment. This per­mits us, as con­sumers, to be more respon­si­ble for and sen­si­tive to the reper­cus­sions of our jew­elry pur­chases. But the fact remains that the use of recy­cled gold has rel­a­tively no impact on the issues sur­round­ing gold min­ing today.

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