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Soapbox & Opinions

Why I only use recycled metals

Unethical mining practices around the world are plaguing the jewellery industry but that’s the last thing consumers – and retailers – think about when shopping for a sparkler for the wife or a pair of earrings for mum’s birthday.

Like the fashion industry, which has only recently come under the spotlight for unethical practices, the jewellery industry needs a shake-up.

Mining for new metals to make jewellery is absolutely unnecessary in my opinion. There are enough metals already mined in the world to last a lifetime!

Sure there are eco-friendly ways of mining for gold and silver but, in many cases, the process causes deforestation and pollution, which affects the ecology of the mined regions – native animal species suffer as access to food, water and shelter is impacted and flora species also become endangered.

The sad thing is that the public has no idea this is going on.

Did you know the majority of the world’s gold is extracted from open-pit mines and that 20 tonnes of toxic waste is produced for every gold ring? What about silver? Unlike gold, silver mines are underground and have the potential for tunnel collapses and land subsidence. They also involve large-scale movements of waste rock and vegetation, similar to open-pit mining.

I don’t believe there’s any need to use newly mined silver; there’s no difference in the quality and there’s already plenty to go around. You see, silver has always been recycled. In fact, sometimes it’s actually a byproduct of industrial mining for other metals like copper and gold!

"Mining for new metals to make jewellery is absolutely unnecessary in my opinion. There are enough metals already mined in the world to last a lifetime!"

I started my business in 2009 after working in the mainstream jewellery industry left me feeling despondent. I saw huge amounts of waste, unethical practices and tonnes of newly mined metals being used. It didn’t sit right with me. I started researching and found that there is no such thing as ‘clean’ gold or silver unless the metals are recycled or vintage.

Many will be surprised to learn that recyclable metals are used all the time in the industry. It’s just that the jewellery businesses that outsource manufacturing don’t always realise that this is something important they should be talking about.

Sadly, I think people are still holding onto the idea that recycled means a reduction in quality and aesthetics. There is still that stigma that recycled metals must be duller, lower grade and not as visually beautiful as new metals. As a designer, this is the main misconception I want to change.

Once someone finds out that a jewellery piece is made with recyclable metals, the most common response I receive is that it doesn’t look recycled, which always amuses me. The truth is that you cannot see any difference in recycled jewellery.

Like anything, retailers should conduct due diligence and ask for proof that items are eco-friendly/recycled/ethical. We personally visit our warehouses to ensure all procedures are strictly followed. There is a lot of industry certification too and although it can be time-consuming for businesses to go through the certification process, it’s a necessary step.

As an increasing number of jewellery businesses jump on the ‘eco’ bandwagon, these measures are important for ensuring claims are backed up and transparent. Our jewellery manufacturer, for example, has been audited for social compliance (SA8000), which means all staff are paid a fair wage and operate in a safe working environment.

While pricing for recycled and newly mined metals is comparable, it should be noted that additional costs are involved in refining a recyclable metal to ensure that it’s the correct alloy, such are sterling silver. Sometimes you’re not always sure what you’re getting with recycled metals, particularly when using post-consumer metal, so this step is essential.

I don’t think the industry will ever stop mining for new metals. Profit often outweighs other considerations such as effect on the environment and human cost. Unfortunately the mainstream industry isn’t interested in prioritising the eco message so it’s up to a small number of suppliers – and retail stockists of those suppliers – that are slowly using their branding and marketing to raise awareness.

Even if one customer has an ‘A-ha!’ moment that the jewellery industry, like so many others, has its own dark practices then the mission is working. The ethical fashion movement took flight in 2013 after the disaster of the Rana Plaza Collapse in Bangladesh. It took a horrific incident like that for the unethical practices to be exposed and I pray it doesn’t come to that for jewellery.

Name: Tanya Coelho
Business: Zefyr Jewels
Position: Designer and founder
Location: Sydney
Years in the industry: 15

Sunday, 21 April, 2019 04:38am
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