Did you ever think about the environmental and socio-economic impact of the jewelry that you wear every day? Where does it come from? What processes were used to mine and manufacture it? Was anything or anyone harmed in the making of the jewelry?
Many people may not have even been aware of some of the issues involved in making precious jewelry until they saw the Leonardo DiCaprio movie, BloodDiamond, a few years ago, which exposed the business of conflict diamonds, or diamonds mined in African war zones and sold to finance the conflicts and profit the warlords and the diamond companies across the world. Moreover, how many people know about the environmental impact mining has on the earth itself?
Mining is generally very destructive to the environment. It is one of the main causes of deforestation. In order to mine, trees and vegetation are cleared and burned. With the ground completely bare, large-scale mining operations use huge bulldozers and excavators to extract the metals and minerals from the soil. In order to amalgamate (cluster) the extractions, they use chemicals such as cyanide, mercury, or methylmercury. These chemicals go through tailings (pipes) and are often discharged into rivers, streams, bays, and oceans. This pollution contaminates all living organisms within the body of water and ultimately the people who depend on the fish for their main source of protein and their economic livelihood. Small scale mining is equally devastating to the environment, which involves land dredging and river dredging.
The United States provides an enormous market for gold, the majority of which is made into jewelry. Even national parks in Indonesia are now permanently scarred, with large areas of land and rivers devegetated and poisoned with cyanide. This country has the highest number of threatened species in the world, a majority of which are found only there. Orangutans are being driven from their forest homes in Indonesian Borneo and Sumatra by loggers and gold miners, their populations now facing extinction in the wild.
Diamond extraction can destroy wildlife habitat and river bottoms, as well as causing human rights violations when used as currency by dictatorial governments. Pearl cultivation damages American aquatic ecosystems. Pieces of mussel shell are inserted into living oysters, which causes the oyster to exude pearl material to surround the mussel shell. The mussel shells used for this cultivation come, for the most part, from the United States. Millions of tons of these shells are dug out of riverbeds, threatening some species.
Coral reefs are invaluable resources to local communities around the world, serving as sources of food, jobs and livelihoods, and as coastal protection. Without effective management and enforcement, the trade of coral reef species and products jeopardizes the potential of coral reefs to sustain local communities and future generations. While these practices provide economic benefits, if done irresponsibly they are destructive and undermine the important long-term benefits provided by reefs, such as shoreline protection, fisheries and ecotourism. Coral mining can include blasting of massive areas of reef with dynamite or large scale removal of coral manually in patches throughout a reef. Many countries have banned coral mining, such as Sri Lanka and Indonesia, but due to lack of enforcement, the practice continues. Selective harvesting, when practiced under an effectively enforced management plan, can be done sustainably with minimal impact on the reef as in Hawaii and Australia.
What can we do as global citizens to curb the effects of mining?
- Make companies who exploit developing countries accountable for their actions.
- Boycott products produced by companies who do not mine in environmentally responsible ways.
- Start talking. Tell your family members, friends, and members in your community about the effects of mining and how jewelry made of gold, silver, and diamonds can be substituted for other metals which are mined in responsible ways.
- Write letters to governments who do not properly compensate people who have been affected by pollution from mining companies.
- Spread awareness of this issue by sharing your knowledge. This is how change occurs.
Another great resource is www.fairjewelry.org. The purpose of fairjewelry.org is to cover these fair trade jewelry issues as they relate to sourcing and production.
Today, environmentally conscious consumers who love jewelry are looking for alternatives. They want to purchase jewelry that is ethical and employs responsible environmental practices in a transparent and accountable manner throughout the industry from mine to retail. Fairtrade.org offers some great resources for consumers that provide fair trade and environmentally responsible jewelry (and even organic jewelry!) sources.
Also: Win Beautiful, Ethical Jewelry ($507 Value) and Support African Artisans
and 5 Eco-Friendly Jewelry Makers You Need in Your Life
Coral Reef Alliance
Endangered Species Handbook