The circular economy is on the rise! Upcycled collections have been popping up on the runways. Second-hand shops are bursting at the seams and repair shops are also getting more business. And it’s high time it happened! If we don’t change anything about our Throwaway society then sooner or later, resources will run out. It is especially urgent that we adopt circular business models in the jewellery sector. Natural resources are scarce and expensive, and mining them has a major impact on our environment.
The demand for natural resources continues to increase as finding new sources and extracting them is becoming increasingly difficult. Soon, some vital resources will become scarce and very expensive. It is therefore definitely in the interests of the jewellery industry to switch from a linear to a circular model where silver and gold are recycled and reused.
Most of the gold and silver available in Western Europe actually comes from old recycled jewellery. Not only is this better for the planet but it also has the added bonus of guaranteeing good working conditions because this jewellery is processed within the European Union. Your favourite piece of jewellery could be made from recycled gold and you probably wouldn’t even know it.
Mining uses an enormous amount of water to extract the precious metals needed for all the technology underpinning our modern lifestyles: mobiles phones and other electronics. Belgium currently has more mobile phones than inhabitants. It's a real waste that old mobile phone batteries (and all of the precious metals they contain) end up in a dusty cupboard or in the bin.
Circular companies such as Umicore recycle precious metals from electrical appliances, smartphones and computer motherboards. One gold wedding ring requires 200 mobile phones. Recycling these materials is very profitable because the value of metal does not decrease over time. One tonne of e-waste accounts for 100 times more gold than what is extracted in mines. Umicore Precious Metals Refining is one of the largest precious metal recycling plants in the world. Umicore has a recovery rate of almost 95% for metals contained in e-waste.
We already know that most gold & silver is recycled in Western Europe. Many jewellers can also transform your old jewellery into a new piece with even more sentimental value. Gold and silver are remelted, given a new carat certificate and precious stones or diamonds are reset.
However, many creative jewellers see opportunities for new unique designs using numerous waste streams.
Anna Rosa Moschouti, for example, uses leftover Corian from kitchen construction in her designs and sells jewellery made from old bicycle tyres. By using the COSH! shopping guide, you can discover many other local creators who have adopted circular approaches.
3 tips for jewellery buying
When looking for ethical jewellery, there are several factors to consider.
- Pay attention to the country of origin. Avoid diamonds from zones of conflict such as Zimbabwe, Angola, Democratic Republic of Congo, Liberia, and the Ivory Coast. Countries which you can trust for ethical diamonds: Canada, Australia, Namibia and Sierra Leone.
- Look beyond the certificates. Certificates are helpful but do not tell the whole story.
- Ask questions. What does the jeweller say about his products and their origin and the working conditions in which they are made? Does the brand or the jeweller support projects in the local communities where their diamonds are extracted? Do they support initiatives that promote fair trade diamonds, gold and silver trade?