Is recycled gold ethical?

In general, recycling is a positive practice because it valorises waste and avoids the production of raw materials.

Using recycled gold in jewellery may seem like a good option at first glance, but unfortunately this is not always the case. There is a great deal of misunderstanding around this subject in our society and the word 'recycled' is used over and over again, even by the big brands. But what exactly does it mean? Is recycled gold really ethical?

Gold in general can be melted down very easily. Due to its price, it is by nature already systematically recycled. It is one of the few precious metals that has always maintained a very high and stable value on the market, which allows it to be converted quite quickly into any currency. Therefore, gold is not something that can be thrown away. Gold has actually been recycled for thousands and thousands of years. This is not a new phenomenon. But then why is the combination of the words "recycled+gold" increasingly used in the jewellery world?

The answer is simple: because it sounds good and ethical. When in reality it is just another subtle form of greenwashing.

 Buying recycled gold does not help to reduce its production and is linked to the same problems faced by the gold industries:

  • Exploitation of children
  • Money laundering
  • Funding conflicts
  • Environmental problems and pollution: use of toxic materials such as mercury or cyanide to refine gold
  • Workers' health problems: mercury poisoning

Furthermore, the majority of recycled gold is not traceable and therefore does not guarantee that it has been mined under fair conditions. Using only recycled gold is actually quite contradictory and unethical, as its use does not help the progress and development of the sector which needs the support of the market to be more responsible. Instead of directly addressing the local situation, it only pushes the problem further away and does not help mining to become more responsible.

This chart represents the annual production of gold throughout the last six years. We can notice that even though recycled gold has maintained the same output during the last years, gold mining supply remains almost the same. In other words the impact of recycled gold output to mined gold is zero.

So what are the alternatives?

A logical alternative would be not to use gold in jewelry at all, but this is not a realistic solution because gold is the jeweler's favorite precious metal due to its hardness and malleability properties.

Another good alternative to recycled gold would be to opt for gold that is traceable from the mine to the consumer's hands. This way, the final consumer can have access to how and under what conditions the metal was extracted and transformed. This could be an alternative, especially if we take into account that artisanal mining is a reality that we cannot escape for the time being.

It is for all these reasons that all of AGUAdeORO’s jewelry is made with Max Havelaar’s officially certified Fairtrade gold. But what specifically is Fairtrade gold? 

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