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.