Ethical and Environmental Issues Around Jewellery
Updated: Oct 15, 2021
As you may know, I’m all about doing what I can to reduce my impact on the beautiful planet we call home. So, I thought I’d take the time to talk through some of the issues involved with making jewellery so that you can make more informed decisions. This will just be a brief overview, and of course there are more issues and ways to help than what will be talked about in this post.
The Most Obvious Issue
The most obvious issue is of course the use of raw materials. Whether this is metal, gas for torches, or things as simple as packaging.
No matter what, there will only be a certain amount of raw material available. Therefore, it’s important to be mindful of how much you’re using, and utilising recycled and recyclable materials as much as possible. This is why I produce small batches of stock, I am using more and more recycled silver, I make sure to recycle what metal I can’t use and I use recycled, recyclable and reusable packaging as much as possible. I have quite the pile of bubble wrap I have collected and saved!
Obviously, it sounds far easier than it actually is sometimes because there are many factors involved in being able to use more environmentally friendly materials. The biggest one being cost. Which is why it baffles me that there are small businesses out there doing more to reduce their impact than big companies that have the money to make a difference. Take, for example, using recycled silver. Buying recycled sheet and wire is more expensive than buying regular silver and some businesses just can’t afford that price difference.
Gold mining is one of the most destructive industries as it can displace countries, contaminate drinking water, harm workers and the earth! It contaminates both the water and land with mercury and cyanide causing the destruction of ecosystems and endangering the health of workers.
Producing enough gold for just one wedding band can generate 20 tons of waste!
Luckily, there are now companies working to change this such as the Fairtrade Foundation who we know from buying Fairtrade food and spices.
‘Buying Fairtrade Gold jewellery means you are supporting small-scale miners to receive a fair deal for their hard work, as well as protecting the environment and making life better for themselves and their communities All gold is sourced from mine sites who meet the Fairtrade Gold Standard; a globally recognised marker of best practice. ‘ – Quote taken from the Fairtrade Foundation website.
There are now more suppliers selling recycled and Fairtrade gold too, meaning that jewellers have the option to buy more sustainably.
As with Gold, there are a lot of the same issues when it comes to mining gemstones. As well as, once again, using up natural recourses.
Blood/Conflict Diamonds are also a big issue. These mines are controlled by forces that oppose that area’s/country’s government and use the money generated from the diamonds to buy weapons and fund military action against that government.
One way diamonds are now being produced is in labs! Another great alternative is moissanite. I haven’t done a lot of work with diamonds as of yet, but I would make sure that they were conflict free, lab grown or reclaimed. Of course, another big thing for jewellers is trusting our suppliers!
Like with most processes today there can be a lot of chemicals involved in jewellery production.
My most used is pickle which is an acidic solution used for getting rid of oxidisation and fire scale cause from heating metal. I also use liver of sulphur for oxidising and I’ve been considering getting into etching.
A big part of using these is making sure you know how to properly dispose of the solutions when you are done with them or they can’t be used any more.
There are also lots of alternatives out there. For example, you can use citric acid or vinegar rather than chemical acids for pickle. There are also lots of different ways to oxidise and add patina to metal using natural ingredients.
Of course, there is a lot more than this (don’t get me started about fast fashion!), but I hope it’s given you some more information around what’s involved in making jewellery and how I’m doing my best to be as informed and eco-friendly as I can be.
Until my next post, you can keep up to date by joining my mailing list and catching me on social media!