According to the Environmental Protection Agency’s most recent Toxic Release Inventory from 2006, says that metal mining is the worst polluting industry in the United States of all waste disposals. I argue then how can we make “green jewelry” not just an idea but also a practice. Luckily enough, once extracted precious gems and metals are never discarded and do not fall under disposable consumerism or planned obsolescence. As dirty the jewelry industry may be, its value endures within our social standards.
As a maker, I have found myself questioning and trying to understand the controversy behind my practice not only as an independent artist but also within the RISD facilities.
To really understand how green my practice is I have to first recognize how transparent the company I get my sources from is. Do they mine their copper or has it been recycled? This will allow me to take an environmentally conscious choice of material sourcing. I also question the ethical labor production of my materials. Was it a Fair Trade? Who has mined them, for how much? What environmental circumstance have the workers been exposed to? What is the manufacture’s energy consumption and environmental impact to their practice? What about packaging, transportation, waste disposal?
The ethical use of labor has started since the Industrial Revolution but only recently has their been concerns for ethical jewelry production. Ethical material sources have introduced a distinction between two types of extractions: primary and secondary refining. The primary extraction is the mechanical and chemical extraction of metals directly from natural resources. Now because of the Hardrock Mining Reform in 2007, the extraction of metals must abide to environmental regulations.
Secondary refining, sources metal from previously refined products. Pawnshops and jewelers might send jewelry to be subsequently processed. This process does not apply for metal consumption only but also for other materials that might be used in the jewelry industry such as electronics, plastics, and fibers. This lowers the demand, extraction and processing of new materials.
However the problem lies on where one can buy this ethical produced metal? Unfortunately, there are not many eco-conscious manufactures where jewelers can buy refined metal or industries that will buy your waste if you are not working with an industry. The whole idea of jewelers using refined metal becomes unapproachable because of the indifference and disconnect these companies have.
As another jeweler, Gabriel Craig mentions, “We must all begin the arduous task of rethinking jewelry, at least in terms of sustainability beyond our own lifetime”. This makes me realize we need to be intelligent in the way we use materials and not just create waste for waste but waste for food. One must question and understand every step a product undergoes.