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The jewelry industry has been long-known for its negative environmental and ethical impacts. From the mining and extraction of raw materials to the production of finished pieces, the jewelry industry leaves a heavy toll on the planet. This has led to a growing movement within the jewelry industry to create eco-friendly and ethical jewelry. But what does that mean? And what is the truth behind ethical and eco-friendly jewelry?

The Environmental Impact of Jewelry Production

The majority of the jewelry on display in jewelers and department stores has a shady background. Much of the world's gold originates from open-pit mines, which destroy enormous areas of natural plants and haul massive quantities of dirt away to be processed for trace metals.

According to Earthworks, "gold mining is one of the most harmful businesses in the world." It displaces people, degrades the environment, and contaminates drinking water with dangerous elements like as mercury and cyanide. And as gold becomes scarcer and harder to get, needing more resources for fewer traces of gold, energy usage, deterioration, and pollution will only grow.

Even 20 years earlier, in 2000, the EPA discovered that mining had polluted 40% of the watersheds in the United States' West.

How does this transfer into the jewelry industry's impact? The jewelry sector is the world's largest gold consumer, accounting for over half of all gold demand.

To help connect the links between mining and the jewelry we wear, Earthworks determined that the average gold ring generates 20 tons of mine debris.

The mining business is just as cruel to its employees as it is to the environment. According to the International Labour Organization (ILO), the mining and quarrying industry is a major source of labor exploitation, accounting for 4% of all forced labor worldwide. According to the ILO, there are tens of thousands of children working in gold mining across the world today, making the sector a significant driver of child labor.

So, the issues are evident; how can the industry improve? For years, many conscious jewelry businesses have been showing the way, demonstrating how to create exquisite jewelry while being more ecologically and socially responsible.

What is Eco-Friendly? And what is Ethical Jewelry?

Here's what to look to determine whether a company makes ethical and environmentally sustainable jewelry.

Recycled or vintage metals

With the abundance of gold and other metals in circulation today, as well as their endless recyclability, there is no reason not to pick recycled. Especially when recycled gold has the same quality as newly mined gold while causing 99 percent less environmental impact, according to an analysis of several aspects such a global warming, acidification, eutrophication, ecotoxicity, and carcinogens

Many businesses are making the conscientious (and sensible) decision to use recycled gold and other metals in their distinctively created and sculpted items.

Non-toxic washes and polish

Another dirty secret of the jewelry industry is that many manufacturers use chemicals like cyanide to clean and polish their jewelry, which has even led to some jewelry workers getting cyanide poisoning. Many ethical jewelry companies, on the other, avoid using acids or hazardous chemicals and uses more environmental-friendly cleaning products instead.

Clean(Non-polluting) Production

If you've watched the documentary RiverBlue, you're aware of the issues with improper textile disposal and the pollution it causes. Again, the jewelry sector is analogous. Many factories will discharge the plaster used in the manufacturing process into the water and sewage systems.

Eco-Minded Packing

We must not overlook the final stage of the process: packing! Packing materials are often created from virgin plastic and/or virgin paper. Look for biodegradable and/or recyclable packing as the most ecologically friendly option.

Many jewelry companies are currently using recycled paper and packaging and compostable boxes with biodegradable algae ink.

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