Is There Such a Thing as Eco-Friendly Jewelry?

Q: Is there such a thing as eco-friendly jewelry? How can I be sure the necklace I’m buying doesn’t have any Earth-killing karma?

A: Good question. Any industrial jewelry mining can have numerous harmful negative impacts on the environment, ranging from erosion of the land, to leakage of harmful chemicals into the water supply, to the alteration of an entire ecosystem. And let’s not forget about the carbon footprint of the heavy machinery that’s used in the process. So yes, there most definitely is such a thing as eco-friendly jewelry — that is, any jewelry that was mined with the least possible negative impact on the environment, or not mined at all.

Take gold for example. When I was in elementary school, we went on a trip in the fourth grade to Dahlonega, Ga., where we panned for gold. I spent the better part of an hour filling a little jar with teeny tiny gold chips, and spent the whole bus ride home wondering why more people didn’t get rich this way. (Needless to say, I still have that jar of gold. It’s worth as much now as it was back in the fourth grade — about $1.04.)

Today’s commercial gold mining is hardly as benign as dipping pans into streams of running water, though. No Dirty Gold, a campaign launched in 2004 by Earthworks (a nonprofit dedicated to protecting the environment), seeks to educate consumers and retailers about irresponsible gold mining practices. Consider this: According to their site, the mining for one gold ring creates 20 tons of mine waste. Not only that, gold mining virtually obliterates the natural landscape. The largest gold mine is a crater in Utah and is so big, it is actually visible from outer space.

So what’s a girl to do?

First, a few retailers out there offer recycled gold jewelry. By buying recycled gold jewelry, you’re not only being environmentally responsible; you’re also lowering the demand for newly mined gold. And while you’re at it, why not recycle your old gold trinkets? GreenKarat is a site that will accept your old gold jewelry, and will even turn your recycled gold into new jewelry custom for you.

Other eco-friendly jewelry sites include BrilliantEarth and GreenORO. Sites like these track their jewelry from mine to market and ensure that their jewelry has been procured in the most environmentally responsible way. Another interesting eco-friendly jewelry site is Eco-Artware, which features eclectic items such as bracelets made from subway tokens or watch faces.

Another option is to consider vintage jewelry, which recycles valuable resources and doesn’t require new mining. And a vintage necklace or ring is always in style.

One eco-friendly jewelry option (and my personal favorite — hubby dearest, are you reading this?): Pearls! The pearl industry is quick to point out that pearls aren’t mined at all and say that they are more eco-friendly than your average mined gem. That being said, aquaculture can be damaging to the environment because of the use of high-powered hoses to clean the oysters. There is an eco-friendly solution though — some pearl farmers use tropical fish to scrub the oysters clean.

So you see, eco-friendly jewelry is everywhere. It’s just a matter of looking under the right rock, or for that matter, not looking under a rock at all.

-- Chanie

Photo credits:

Pearl earrings: selva/Flickr

MNN homepage image: babyowls/Flickr