The jewelry industry is wrought with problematic paradigms - beautiful things are often created at a high human and environmental cost. It does not have to be this way. If we educate ourselves as consumers we can support a transition to practices that are safer for both humans and our environment.
Gold mining, as it is typically practiced, has deadly consequences on the environment and the health and rights of individuals and communities. Illegal mining activities have been tied to child labor, human trafficking and violence by mine operators against miners. Mining is destroying huge swaths of some of the most biodiverse areas on our planet – awful in and of itself, but protected forest and jungle flora is also one of our best assets in off-setting carbon emissions. And we’re talking really, truly decimating. To obtain enough gold to make a single wedding ring (a single one!) 20 tons of soil and rock are displaced - and for illegal mining, done unsystematically, estimates can be much higher. Mercury and cyanide are often poured over the piles as cheap and expedient aids to extract the gold, leaving behind a heap of toxic sludge. These chemical laced piles are typically abandoned, leaving dangerous consequences for groundwater and the health of local communities.
It’s easy to wash over numbers - even statistics as mind-blowing and disproportionate as that. Imagine if upon purchasing gold we had to look at the remnants of the land that it came from. “There have long been ‘inconsistencies’ between the traditional perceived value of gold as a romantic symbol and the realities of extracting raw gold from the Earth,” Beth Gerstein, co-founder of Brilliant Earth, said in an article in Smithsonian Magazine. But as with so many things, we see only the finished product, and the human and environmental cost remain far in the distance.
Here’s the thing. Most of the gold being mined goes toward the jewelry industry. If we purchased less gold it would directly translate into less mining. If consumers decided to rethink their purchasing patterns to prioritize more ethically mined gold and recycled gold the industry would have to shift.