Environmental Impact Of Gold

Some of the most environmentally destructive mining practices today produce those shimmery pieces of jewelry we drape all over our necks, wrists and fingers. That’s right. I’m talking about gold.

Green journalist, Simran Sethi, blogged recently about the danger gold mining poses to our environment. According to her post, one gold ring produces 20 tons of mine waste. I repeat: 20 tons! (almost 500 cubic feet of soil).  Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been picturing a square cut diamond in a white gold setting since the day I discovered my mother’s Tiffany’s catalogue, but that kind of environmental impact just doesn’t seem worth it to me.

Most of the waste comes from a mining technique called cyanide heap leaching. Many gold mines are not particularly lucrative with only a few gold specks immersed in giant formations of ore. In order to make a profit out of these sites, miners pour sodium cyanide into the host rocks; and as it percolates down it dissolves the gold in its path. Not only have entire landscapes been demolished in the process, this waste product is most often dumped into the ocean.

To reach even finer pieces, a similar process is instated using toxic levels of Mercury. Mercury waste pollutes both water and the atmosphere. That’s right – if it’s not getting into your drinking water, you’ll probably breathe it in instead. Learn more at WorldWatch. And it doesn’t just stop at gold. These issues can be found at mine sites for diamonds, platinum, and even Australian opals.

So what’s a girl with an environmental conscious to do?   Well, I have a few ideas.

  • Try going native. Last spring I spent the semester in Northern Queensland and picked up some beautiful pieces. My personal favorite is my sandalwood seed bracelet. It was only about $20, made completely out of red sandalwood seeds (sustainable), and the purchase supported the Aboriginal man making them. Maybe next time you’re on vacation in a remote area, look into jewelry produced by indigenous people. More often than not they are made from sustainable products, and are always in style. Sustainable jewelry has much less environmental impact.
  • If you are finally ready to pop the question, or treating yourself to an early birthday present, try purchasing recycled gold or platinum. We have enough floating around in this world to reuse, don’t you think? I recommend Pristine Planet for some truly beautiful pieces.
  • My personal favorite tip: look to the ones you love. My grandmother was one of the funniest, sassiest, funkiest women I have ever known. She draped herself in chunky necklaces, fat cocktail rings, and bangles to her elbow. Most of the jewelry I wear belonged to her. You’d be surprised by how many beautiful pieces are running through the roots of your family tree. Plus,every time I wear a piece, it reminds me her. Sentimental value kicks market value’s butt every time. Just make sure to ask permission first.

So if you saw Blood Diamond you might have said afterwards,  “maybe I’ll wear cubic zirconia for a while,” Think about the environmental impact behind all this jewelry and keep these helpful tips in mind – accessorize wisely while reducing your carbon footprint.

green writer samantha frapartOther related Green Blizzard articles on home energy efficiency: Energy Efficient Windows,  Water Conservation Around The House, and Gift Ideas For A Green Handyman.


About the author

Samantha Frapart

Samantha was the first staff writer at Green Blizzard, way back during the start-up phase, and has written a series of fresh and spirited articles from the millennial's perspective. Samantha's portfolio of green living tips ranges from green apartment living, urban transportation options, green underwear choices, re-usable coffee cups, bathroom habits, and even…. drinking straws.