Alternatives to mining, such as recycled gold from e-waste, exist today and we are now able to craft beautiful jewellery while limiting our negative impact on the environment. The future is here!
Miners work in an illegal gold mine in Las Claritas. © 2016 Meridith Kohut
1. HUMAN RIGHTS
A recently published article from Human Rights Watch highlights some of the key human rights abuses that can take place in the gold mining industry.
For instance, in Venezuela, a high number of reserves of precious metals, including gold, is controlled by armed rebels. Those syndicates “exert strict control over the populations who live and work there, impose abusive working conditions, and viciously treat those accused of theft and other offenses.”
Artisanal small scale mining in Mali
One single gold ring can potentially create a staggering 20-tons of mining waste! This waste contains toxic chemicals which can contaminate the nearby water supply and soil.
In some cases, local residents are exposed to chemicals such as mercury, which creates serious long-term illnesses. Mercury is a cheap product used to reveal the gold from the rock. Unfortunately, it causes devastating long-term impacts on the people and the planet.
3. USE OF WATER
Large-scale projects can use an average of 60,000 - 100,000 cubic meters of water every day.
It would provide the basic water needs for a population equal to that of a large U.S. city for a year!
Mine Tailings, Sudbury Ontario. © Edward Burtnyski
4. ACIDE MINE DRAINAGE
One major issue with Underground Mining is called Fool’s Gold, or Iron Sulphides. It occurs when the rock reacts with oxygen to make what is then called Sulfuric Acid.
This acidic process drains from the mine site and can be up to 300 times more concentrated than acid rain!
Once this process begins, it is very complicated to stop the spread of contamination in the water.
5. AIR POLLUTION
The electricity produced by burning coal and other fossil fuels in the mining process generates air pollution, smog, and greenhouse gases.
As gold mines are typically large-scale operations requiring a sufficient amount of heavy machinery and earth-moving vehicles, airborne pollution is a significant environmental issue.
Gold mining destroys local wildlife, habitats and important ecosystems, mostly because of the pollution produced and the vast amount of land each mine required.
For instance, the largest mine in the world, the Grasberg Mine, located in Indonesia, operates on 27,400 acres of land and has been a source of ongoing friction and conflict due to its negative environmental impact on the surrounding ecosystems.
What are the different methods for mining gold?
There are three key methods:
Processing Gold Ore
Small amounts of gold are extracted from the crushed rock using a chemical process.
The running of river water can cause deposits of gold. To locate such deposits, the panning technique is used to find gold on the surface area.
Hard Rock Mining
Open-pit mining, or Underground Tunnel Nining, is used to extract gold from the earth’ rocks. Gold deposits reside in hard rock called Metamorphic Rock.
What does recycled gold mean?
Gold is a highly valued and much loved precious metal that is perfect for recycling. Indeed, gold does not decline in quality when recycled.
Gold can be found and recycled in many surprising places and due to this being largely unknown, much of it, unfortunately, goes to landfill. Currently, around 90% of recycled gold comes from jewellery and the remaining 10% comes from other sources.
A few common places where you can find gold in everyday items:
- Cars: In the electronics, airbag inflation chip and anti-lock brakes chip and potentially in the heat insulation.
- CD’s or DVD’s: The disks contain gold in their reflective surface.
- Gold Jewellery: Pre-existing gold jewellery of 18k or base metal which is coated in 14k or 10k.
- Dishes or Flatware: Fine chinaware can contain gold, often 24k gold!
- Electronics: Computers, fire alarms, smartphones, or game consoles contain traces of gold.
Tokyo Olympic Medals will be made from 80,000 Tons Of Recycled Electronics
What is e-waste?
E-waste is any electrical item which is still operating, generating electricity and can be connected to a plug or has a battery. The main components of e-waste are metals and plastics. Electronics contain precious metals such as silver, gold, palladium and copper.
According to a recent report on We Forum, “there is so much of it (e-waste) that it would weigh more than 125,000 Boeing 747 jumbo jets or 44.7 million tonnes in total. That’s enough to build 4,500 replicas of the Eiffel Tower every year”.
“A large number of what is labelled as "e-waste" is not waste at all, but rather whole electronic equipment or parts that are readily marketable for reuse or can be recycled for materials recovery”.
Did you know you can choose to recycle your electronics?
By taking your used devices, such as a laptop or smartphones, to a store with a recycling point, you can keep it out of the landfill! The device will be disassembled by a technician at a recycling plant. Iron and Copper can be melted and repurposed. Plastic is sent out to a different company to be recycled further. Most of the gold and platinum will be extracted from the circuit board.
The smartphone, such as the Apple iPhone, is one example of e-waste that contains gold. In one phone there are an estimated 0.034 grams of gold. In 2018, 1.56 billion smartphones were sold to the global market, i.e. 53 tons of gold!Unfortunately, most used phones end up in the landfill. “In 2018, the world produced over 50 million tonnes of e-waste, and it is estimated that only 12.5% of it was recycled.”
So, how do we recycled our gold at Scéona?
By choosing to exclusively work with 18k recycled gold to craft our pieces, we believe recycling e-waste is a wonderful alternative to gold mining.
Recycled gold is bringing new life to this beautiful metal and allows to reduce the amount of waste discarded to the landfill. Without compromising on the quality of your jewellery, you now have the choice to select more sustainable alternatives to mining.