As beautiful as jewelry can be to wear, it sure can have an ugly impact on people and the planet:
* Irresponsible mining practices, often in developing countries, have caused terrible human suffering and environmental devastation. I personally witnessed gold being panned along the banks of the Amazon in Peru; the workers were just dumping the arsenic-tainted slurry they used to separate the gold from the rock directly back into the river.
* Diamond mining has fueled civil wars in many African countries, where governments use “horrific violence” to maintain control of people and resources in mining regions, reports Brilliant Earth, a company devoted to producing jewelry ethically. A fictional portrayal of this issue was poignantly told in the Academy Award-nominated movie Blood Diamond, starring Leonardo di Caprio.
* Mining can take a heartbreakinghuman toll. Children as well as adults may be forced into dangerous jobs mining gold and diamonds. More than 200,000 women have been raped in Congo since a civil war began there over access to the country’s mineral resources. Workers die when tunnels collapse, rocks fall and underground mines catch fire.
* In addition to arsenic, mercury is used to separate gold from other materials. Brilliant Earth reports that gold mining is responsible for 30 to 40 percent of man-made mercury pollution each year. Mercury is a powerful toxin that’s known to cause brain damage, impair the ability of the heart and lungs to function and wreak neurological havoc in developing fetuses. When it gets dumped into a river or stream, it ends up in drinking and bathing water and becomes unavoidable.
* Gold mining is not just a problem in far-away countries. The U.S. is the third-largest gold-producing nationin the world, after China and Australia. Most U.S. gold comes from large open-pit heap leach mines in Nevada. “This type of mining is particularly damaging to the environment,” reports MIT. “Environmental hazards are present during every step of the open-pit mining process,” including exposing radioactive rocks, asbestos-like minerals and metallic dust. Rock slurries, which are mixtures of pulverized rock and liquid, are produced as tailings. Toxic and radioactive elements from these liquids can leak into bedrock and get into groundwater. If their containment ponds break, the slurries can be sent coursing into streams and rivers.
* Jewelry made from the body parts of endangered species threatens those animals even more. The Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) prohibits trading in shells, bones, skeletons and other parts of animals that are threatened or endangered. That means that shouldn’t buy jewelry made from those animals, either.
The Benefits of Buying Recycled Jewelry
Buying recycled jewelry offers a sharp contrast to buying it brand new. Choosing recycled saves energy, water and the mineral resources themselves. Eighty percent of all gold mined is made into jewelry, reports TheWorldWomenWant.com. There is already so much gold availablein old jewelry, coins and furnishingsthat we could satisfy our gold demands for the next 50 years just by getting access to old gold.
Making jewelry from recycled materials also helps reduce environmental degradation. It’s easy to see how much better it is to create a new ring out of an old one instead of needing to mine and process the gold from scratch.
Plus, there’s something inspiring about creating new and beautiful jewelry out of what otherwise might be thrown away.
And remember, your jewelry doesn’t need to be made from gold, sapphires, diamonds or rubies to be exquisite. I have a beautiful necklace made from an antique button, a gorgeous pendant fashioned from a piece of Chinese pottery and lovely earrings that used to be beach glass.
Where Can You Buy Recycled Jewelry?
Here is a list of the many places to find jewelry made from recycled gemstones, metals and everyday items.
Antique stores and estate sales – For high-quality rings, necklaces, earrings, pendants and broaches, browse antique stores and estate sales. Here’s another advantage: Prices may be somewhat better than buying the equivalent item new.
Craft fairs – Look for artisans who work with locally available materials, including beads, glass, stones, stainless steel and wood. Locate craft fairs by date and state here.
Family heirlooms – Jewelry is lovely to pass down from one generation to the next. My wedding ring, a combination of diamonds set into a gold band, originally belonged to my favorite aunt.My father gave his gold watch to one of my brothers. Perhaps your mother has a uniquenecklace she’ll pass on to you. Jewelry like this may not necessarily be more valuable, but it probably holds more sentimental meaning.
Etsy – Etsy artistsoften make jewelry out of recycled materials, including unusual items like buttons, typewriter keys, silverware, pop tops from soda and beer cans, sea glass and pottery. Plus on Etsy, you’re likely to find one-of-a-kind designs, since the artists don’t usually mass produce their wares.
Brilliant Earth – This company makes gorgeous wedding and engagement rings from recycled gemstones, recycled gold anddiamonds mined from countries committed to ethical mining practices, including Canada, Namibia and Botswana. Leber Jeweler and Hume Atelier are two other jewelers that have made a commitment to ethical sourcing.
Do What Oscar Nominees Do: Borrow It! The next time you watch the Academy Awards, listen closely when the starlets are asked about their stunning jewelry. They almost always say they’re wearing it on loan from a famous jewelry designer.And that’s a smart idea. Why not borrow a stand-out necklace or pair of earrings for your next big event rather than purchase it new. Check with family and friends to see what they’d be willing to loan you. Or visit BorrowedBling.com, an online emporium that, for a fee, lets you borrow rings, bracelets, necklaces, broaches, pins and earrings. You pay a monthly fee, browse their selections, place your order and return the items using their padded envelope and postage-paid shipping label.
Do you have a favorite piece of recycled jewelry? Please share!
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Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of Care2, Inc., its employees or advertisers.
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Why Recycled Jewelry Matters for a Green Valentine’s Day