Why use recycled gold in your jewelry?
Gold has a rich history spanning more than 10,000 years, yet still, in order to obtain just a couple of grams of gold, huge quantities of rocks have to be moved, broken and sifted. Gold’s environmental impact has opened a lively debate on its real cost, with many questioning if gold is, or can be, ethical. For instance, to obtain one gram of gold, three tons of soil needs to be extracted. Could recycled gold be a more sustainable and ethical solution?
Throughout history, gold items like jewelry or tools have long been melted down to bring life to new items. In this way, gold can be recycled without diminishing its quality, forming a circular economy.
The concept of a circular economy is based on the principle of eco-conception, referring to the consideration of environmental impact throughout the life cycle of a product, integrating environmental protection criteria into each phase. In order to put an end to the unsustainable “buy, use, throw away” paradigm, circular business models encourage the reutilization and recycling of products.
Recycled gold comes mainly from old jewelry and components of electronic devices that are melted down and reused, reintroducing into the economy items that no longer correspond to the initial needs for which they were created, as might be the case with mobile devices as technology advances. For example, 35kg of pure gold can be extracted from one million redundant mobile phones, allowing for the creation of sustainable and ethical jewelry.
While the huge benefits of recycling gold are evident, bringing recycled gold to the market might also be motivated by the huge impact of gold mining. In order to extract one gram of gold, 32 kg of CO2 are released into the atmosphere. By contrast, in the case of recycled gold this huge carbon footprint can be reduced by up to 99%, according to a recent study by the Pforzheim University of Applied Sciences.
On a societal level, there are many reports from non-profit organizations that talk about the risks to human right abuses in the mining industry, with a seemingly constant stream of discovery of cases in which workers are employed in conditions close to slavery.
In 2018, Human Rights Watch revealed that more than one million children still work in small-scale and/or artisanal gold mines, many of whom are injured while forced to perform dangerous tasks. In addition, this NGO also uncovered abusive conditions under which many minerals and precious metals are still obtained. The consequences of illegal mining for many communities have been devastating, including, but not limited to the widespread contamination of freshwater with toxic chemicals.
For all these reasons, more and more voices are calling on the jewelry industry to source responsibly and opt for the use of recycled gold, a strategic decision that benefits both society and our environment.
CoC “Chain of Custody”, recycled gold
The most well-known industry certification for recycled gold is the RJC’s CoC (Chain of Custody).
CoC gold was established by the Responsible Jewellery Council (RJC) to support the declaration of responsibly sourced jewelry materials (known as CoC materials) produced, processed and traded throughout the supply chain. The RJC Chain of Custody (CoC) standard requires companies to have risk management policies and procedures in place to avoid purchasing practices that may pose conflicts. These principles should be based on the “OECD Due Diligence Guidance for Responsible Supply Chains of Minerals from Conflict-Affected or High-Risk Areas”.
There are several CoC gold refineries in the market nowadays, allowing jewelry companies to source completely ethical and recycled gold,certifying that this gold does not originate from mining, but is rather sourced from recycled gold items such as jewelry, electronics and coins no longer in circulation.
Recycled gold and the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)
Building a circular economy with recycled gold, and the RJC’s CoC gold certification are closely linked to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.
Countries in conflict often have vast mineral wealth, yet have growth rates far slower than the rest of the world economy. Often, the illegal commercialization of minerals and precious metals is one of the main ways in which armed group finance their activities, often directly or indirectly causing widespread violations of human rights, increasing inequality and generating poverty.
Using recycled gold helps to end these illegal financing activities, allowing developing countries to grow in sustainable and equitable ways, improving the quality of life for people all around the world, in line with Sustainable Development Goal 1: the end of poverty worldwide and Goal number 16: peace, justice and solid institutions.
Malpractices such as semi-slavery in the gold supply chain, as documented by activists the world over, have tragically been committed by some mining initiatives themselves, frequently involving the participation of armed groups or destabilizing forces. These events, which are sadly ongoing, work against the completion of Sustainable Development Goal 8: the guarantee of decent work tied to economic growth – involving the eradication of child labor in all its forms. Recycled gold is an opportunity to restructure these sectors, providing fair work conditions to all.
Finally, given the far-reduced environmental impact of recycled gold compared to its mined counterpart, reducing contaminants both in the atmosphere and our lakes, rivers and seas, recycled gold contributes significantly to the completion of Goal 13: climate action, Goal 14: protection of marine life, and Goal 11: the development of sustainable cities and communities.
Tracemark certifies the use of CoC ethical and recycled gold in jewelry, providing complete traceability of a piece of jewelry – from its origin to the end consumer.