Recycling & Sustainability

Heirloom Revival

Posted on September 10 2020

Recycling & Sustainability

Aerial view of the Diavik Diamond Mine, Dominion Diamond Mines

You’ve heard that a diamond is forever. But so are their consequences.

The jewelry industry relies on precious and nonrenewable materials that come from the earth. Beyond the terrible human consequences of dirty gold and blood diamonds, mining damages the environment from which they came from. In striving to craft sustainable jewelry, we must also strive to protect the environment that makes it all possible. Recycling these precious resources is the most sustainable way to acquire them, and choosing recycled will help reduce global demands for mining. And because recycled metals are refined to their most pure state, their quality is as high as newly mined metals, without any of the environmental impacts!

So you want to go gold…

One gold ring requires miners to generate at least 20 tons of toxic waste (including poisons like cyanide) and the production of one gold necklace has the same global warming potential as burning 318 pounds of coal.

Acid mine drainage from gold mines in South Africa 
Image credit: Environment News South Africa 

To offset these emissions, we would have to recycle 480 aluminum cans. More than half of all gold mined goes to the production of jewelry. That means that changes within our own industry can have a major impact. Especially when you consider that producing recycled metals like gold, silver and platinum emits 99.5 percent less carbon than mining. And don’t worry, there’s plenty to go around -- about 85 percent of all the world’s gold is still in use or available for recycling.

"The average stone in an engagement ring is the product of the removal and processing of 200 to 400 million times its volume of rock."
Diamond mines are some of the most environmentally destructive operations in existence. Not only does the physical process destroy the earth -- gouging scars down the middle of national parks so large they are visible from space -- the chemical process poisons it. Just last year, the US imported 2,152,343.74 carats of diamonds (equivalent to more than $331 million). For every one carat of those diamonds produced, around 57kgs of greenhouse gas emissions were released into the atmosphere. We would need to recycle 250 cans to offset the emissions of just one carat. We have a lot of recycling to do! 

Emissions aside, within the next few decades, the majority of notable diamond mines will run dry and the last diamond on earth will be mined. Luckily for us, diamonds are forever, and we already have around one trillion dollars’ worth of “used” diamonds in our homes!


Let’s talk sustainability.

We know that asking the whole world to change their mining practices right now isn’t practical. But let’s start with what we can do. A 25 percent reduction in “new” gold use in American jewelry would save over 10 million tonnes of CO2 from being released. According to the EPA’s handy Greenhouse Gas Equivalency Calculator, this is the equivalent to planting over 167 million trees. A 25 percent reduction in mined diamond demands would save 3,025,898.3kgs of greenhouse gas emissions, or the equivalent of planting 50,034 trees.

The only sustainable way to acquire materials is through recycling. If a diamond really is forever, why let it lay unworn? 

(1) Earthworks — No Dirty Gold, 2020: “How the 20 tons of mine waste per gold ring figure was calculated.” https://www.earthworks.org/cms/assets/uploads/archive/files/publications/20TonsMemo_FINAL.pdf 1953.
(2) Harvey-Walker, Benn, 2019: “What’s the carbon cost of your jewellery?” https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/whats-carbon-cost-your-jewellery-benn-harvey-walker/
(3) Statista: “Distribution of global gold demand by industry in 2019.” https://www.statista.com/statistics/299609/gold-demand-by-industry-sector-share/
(4) Fernandez, Jessica and Klimas, Christie, 2019: “A Life Cycle Assessment of Jewelry,” DePaul Discoveries: Vol. 8 : Iss. 1 , Article 6. https://via.library.depaul.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1151&context=depaul-disc
(5) Kimberley Process Statistics: Public Statistics — “Annual Global Summary: 2019 Production, Imports, Exports and KPC Counts.” https://kimberleyprocessstatistics.org/static/pdfs/public_statistics/2019/2019GlobalSummary.pdf
(6)  Harvey-Walker, 2019.
(7) The Fancy Color Research Association, 2019: “The Last Diamond Unearthed: The Countdown is On!” https://www.fcresearch.org/the-last-diamond-unearthed-the-countdown-is-on/
(8) Gordon, Julie; Reuters, 2012: “’ Recycled’ diamonds come back to haunt industry.” https://www.reuters.com/article/mining-diamonds/recycled-diamonds-come-back-to-haunt-industry-idINDEE82C09N20120313

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