With an increasing focus on sustainability, brands are making all sorts of claims about their products to make them appear a more eco-friendly choice. It's happening in the jewellery industry too. Recycled metals, vegan jewellery, and conflict-free diamonds are common phrases many ethical jewellery brands are using on their websites. They sound great to eco-conscious customers shopping for new jewellery but aren't always what they seem.
We're writing a series of articles on sustainable jewellery, popular terms used by makers, what they mean and whether they are as eco-friendly as they seem. We're hoping this transparency helps you to better understand the jewellery you're buying, and to know what to look out for when shopping for new pieces.
We use gold-fill over sterling silver for all our gold jewellery. It offers a more affordable choice than solid gold, without compromising on quality. It can be recycled and reused too just like gold. Our suppliers are Fairtrade licensed and producers of recycled gold but we know that all gold is recycled. Here's why 'recycled gold' isn't as important as you think when buying jewellery.
What is 'Recycled Gold'?
'Recycled gold' has become a popular term used by sustainable brands to market their jewellery as a more eco-friendly option. But any jeweller can say they use recycled gold. Gold is and always has been recycled. It's too valuable to waste or throw away. Recycled gold has always been part of the jewellery supply chain with a recycling infrastructure known as refining.
It's a phrase that has become super popular with small makers wanting to stand out as an eco-alternative to big jewellery brands. Advertising 'recycled gold jewellery' as an eco-friendly option is nothing more than greenwashing unless the jeweller or brand is working on other areas of the business to improve sustainability; such as fair wages, worker rights, waste management, plastic reduction, etc. Here's why:
Gold mining is an intensive and destructive process. You might think recycled gold is a better option for jewellery because it prevents gold from being mined. It's unfortunately not quite as straight forward as that. The global demand for gold doesn't decrease when we use recycled gold, it just shifts who is mining it. The global demand for gold outstrips supply.
When we take gold out of the supply chain to to make jewellery - whether that's new or recycled - other industries using gold, like banks and electronics, have to mine more. The overall amount of gold mined globally does not decrease. The only way to reduce mining for gold is to not use it for jewellery at all.
What is the best sustainable jewellery?
So if recycled gold is just gold, and using it for jewellery doesn't decrease the demand - what's a better alternative?
The most sustainable option is to wear the jewellery you already have. When you buy new pieces, buy from sustainable brands who use Fairtrade metal suppliers of Fairmined gold. This helps to ensure ethical sourcing from small-scale miners who are paid fairly and provided with safe working conditions. Independent makers may not have Fairmined or Fairtrade certifications as they are costly for small brands but their metal suppliers should.
Look for brands who provide a detailed ethics and sustainability policy with information on not just the materials and metals used but every aspect of the business. The jeweller should provide transparent information on sustainable practices, recycling methods, and end of life policies.