What would jewellery be without the rich, deep beauty of precious metals like gold and silver? It is really hard to imagine! But it's no secret that mining gold poses a significant risk not only to nature, but also to the people who work in the mines.
For so little gold, far too much waste
Creating the amount of gold needed to make a single ring generates up to 20 tonnes of waste. And especially in small-scale mining, which accounts for about 15% of newly mined gold, people who often have no other means of income put their lives in danger day after day due to a lack of equipment and disturbingly poor working conditions in order to bring up from the depths of the earth a raw material whose beauty they very likely can not even perceive.
Gold can occur as nuggets, so that they can be easily separated mechanically from the soil substrate. However, the finest traces are usually found in rock minerals, so the precious metal must first be separated from the rock. For this purpose, miners use cyanide and mercury.
This is how harmful gold mining is for our environment
Large-scale gold mining uses the cyanide leaching process. A process that is not only insanely harmful to the environment, but also dangerous to humans: To extract one tonne of gold, an average of 150 tonnes of cyanide must be used, and even one millilitre of it can be fatal to humans.
Small-scale miners tend to use the mercury method. Here, ores containing gold are sieved in water for hours until the gold dust is concentrated in the sediment. Then this concentrate is mixed with mercury, which forms a liquid alloy with the gold. This alloy is heated, whereby the toxic mercury evaporates and the pure gold remains.
The chemicals cyanide and mercury poison the soil, as well as the water in the mining areas, and pose a significant health risk.
In addition, 140,000 litres of water per hour are used for creation. That is about as much as a German household of three people needs in a year.
Ultimately, gold mining also has ecological consequences: for each gold mine, huge craters have to be torn into the landscape - and often enough these mines are located in the middle of rainforest areas.
Why we do not use fair trade gold
And what about Fair Trade Gold? Fair Trade Gold is mined under fair working conditions, with fair pay and under strict regulations that minimise damage to the environment. This is of course - compared to other mining standards - a positive and supportable progress. In addition, miners in fair trade mines take concrete action against the abuses that prevail in the industry by setting new standards and regulations that make mining as environmentally and human friendly as possible.But fair trade gold is also newly mined gold, and here too the environment takes an avoidable hit, albeit a smaller one than in unregulated mining.
One thing is clear: things cannot go on as before!
Maren Jewellery is a holistically sustainable company. So what does it mean for us that gold and sustainability are so difficult to say in the same breath? Shouldn't we, as sustainable jewellery designers, completely refrain from using gold in light of the fact that the environment is so heavily polluted by its extraction and that people risk their lives under terrible conditions?
We should face up to these questions and do everything we can to improve the circumstances of gold mining, both for the people involved in mining and for nature. Because one thing is clear: things cannot go on like this.
That's why we chose recycled gold
Gold has been mined for 4000 years. It is estimated that about 190,000 tonnes of gold have been brought to the earth's surface over the millennia. Moreover, hardly any raw material can be recycled as well as gold, since gold does not lose any of its purity or composition when melted down. For these reasons, we have decided to build on this wealth and use recycled gold for our jewellery, so that no new damage to humans or nature is supported by the jewellery of Maren Jewellery. And the circular economy is also within reach, as we can also make this wonderful property of gold our own and - as has been the tradition since the beginnings of goldsmithing - return leftover resources to the cycle and recycle them. And the WWF, as well as the association Verein Rettet den Regenwald, consider recycled gold to be the most sustainable form of gold extraction and processing.
Aren't we making it too easy for ourselves?
By using recycled gold, are we not ignoring the real problem? After all, just because we don't use virgin gold doesn't mean the mines will close. Nature and humans continue to be pushed to the edge of their possibilities.
Maren Jewellery is a company with clear principles to which we are committed. One of them is a sense of responsibility. We don't want to look the other way, but - as far as it is within our possibilities - we want to get involved. That is why we have decided to support the Earthbeat Foundation with 3% of our profits from 2021 onwards.
Die Earthbeat Foundation is an organisation that works to provide alternative livelihoods in communities where people depend on small-scale mining for their livelihoods, so that people and nature can heal.
Nobody is perfect and only together we can work towards a new world that is kind to people and nature. So let's learn together and make this world a better place.
Written by: Moritz Hackl
Moritz is a copywriter, blogger and journalist living in Munich.
More than anything else, he likes to write about the beautiful things in life -
such as about sustainable jewellery.