Our fascination for gold has endured over many centuries and continues to this day. From crowns and coins, to ancient artifacts like Tutankhamen’s mask and award medals presented to the world’s best athletes; the gold rush across continents, historical icons of wealth and prosperity and the impact of gold prices on world markets – these all contribute to the universal allure that is gold jewellery. But what is the real cost of the shiny gold jewellery
We associate gold with jewellery for special gifts, special achievements, milestones and occasions. These might be a necklace, a bangle or a wedding ring or a once in a lifetime purchase steeped with sentimental value.
Caught up in the ‘romance’ of the gift, it’s very rare that the customer or recipient will give any thought to, or have any idea as to, how the gold jewellery was produced and of the severe impact on the environment along the way.
So, what is the real cost of the shiny gold jewellery that you bought your loved one for Christmas? What did it take to extract the gold from the ore to create that ring or necklace?
The answer is that the vast majority of gold jewellery is made from gold extracted by artisanal and small-scale gold miners (ASGM) using hazardous chemicals and, most likely, rudimentary tools and techniques. ASGM accounts for about 20% of the global gold supply and are comprised of a mostly unskilled workforce of men, women and children. This sector has become the leading source of man-made mercury pollution in the world, generating ~40% of all global mercury emissions.
Mining of this nature usually occurs informally as a means of survival, without legal permits or concern for health and safety or the impact on environment. The process involves the miners digging up a portion of earth, grinding it, mixing it with water and then adding hazardous chemicals, such as mercury or cyanide to extract the gold. A by-product is muddy toxic wastewater called “tailings.”
As a result, alongside thousands of mining operations around the world are tailing dams – vast reservoirs that store a toxic sludge of mining by-products, including water, rock particles and chemicals like cyanide and mercury.
Find out more about the dangers of tailings dams here >
The extracted combined mercury-gold amalgam balls are then ‘cooked’ on a kitchen stovetop or with a blowtorch to evaporate the mercury (yes, into the atmosphere). Left in its place is a piece of gold, ready to be sold – the gold that becomes your piece of jewellery.
Over 19 million people are at risk of harm associated with the use of toxic chemicals, yet consumers have generally been oblivious of this commonly-used process and the widespread impact on the health of communities and on the environment.
With gold mining producing over 7 trillion tons of waste globally each year, the focus is not only on artisanal and small scale gold mining, but also on large scale mining companies. The Minamata Convention has renewed their commitment to phasing out the use of products which contain mercury by 2020. This means that traditional methods of gold processing will have to change, and new policies are to be imposed by governments.
With increased awareness of the issues, there are now more options open to consumers when shopping for jewellery. Leading jewellery companies are taking a stance and the industry is making an effort to clean up its act by certifying gold that meets international sustainability standards. Eco-friendly and ethical gold certifications are becoming more common and sought after as a result.
The CleanGold™ certification, which is accredited by Clean Mining, stands above these options, and as a leader in globally responsible mining technology, assures buyers the gold has been produced without the use of cyanide or mercury and in line with a range of other ethical standards and ‘clean’ concepts.
Consumers and jewellers will find the logo on bullion and jewellery produced using the Clean Mining technology or on gold produced using the same ‘clean’ standards of production and supply.
Next time you buy that piece of gold jewellery, be sure to check its origins and look for the Clean Gold leaf logo.