on January 31, 2023
When you’re shopping for ethical gold, you’ll come across two differently sourced types of gold: fairtrade gold and recycled gold.
Below, we break down what you need to know about these ethically sourced gold sources and if one is more environmentally friendly.
Fairtrade gold -- also known as fairmined gold -- comes from artisanal small scale mines (ARM) and must go through a certification process and meet specific criteria to be certified as fairmined.
Fairtrade gold is fully traceable due to ARM (Alliance for Responsible Mining) and SCS Global Services and currently, only small scale artisanal mines are considered fairmined.
Miners that work for these fairtrade mines are paid a fair and living wage and have safe working conditions. Additionally, certified fairtrade mines ensure gender equality, avoid child labor, and are conflict-free.
Fairmined gold is typically considered an ethical and eco-friendly method when it comes to buying gold; small-scale mining must meet specific standards for protecting the environment, avoiding drinking water contamination, and safety equipment and training when it comes to handling toxic chemicals.
In the latter case, safe methods are used to prevent employees from contacting mercury since many miners in the industry mix mercury and gold with bare and unprotected hands. Additionally, they have to take this mercury and gold mixture and burn the excess mercury in a pan to separate it from the gold, which results in a dangerous neurotoxin called methylmercury. In fairtrade gold mines, miners use protective gear when dealing with mercury, although the eventual goal is to avoid working with mercury completely and avoid mercury contamination in the environment (specifically groundwater).
Fairtrade gold allows consumers to make a difference and pick an ethical way to source gold and support communities and miners by paying them a fair market price, while improving healthcare, schooling, and working conditions.
Fairtrade small-scale mining also typically requires less waste than large-scale mining; small-scale mining usually takes place in areas where there is more gold per each ton of dirt than large-scale mines, which results in less waste overall.
Recycled gold is gold that was part of another piece of jewelry, post-consumer product, or scrap metal that has been melted down, refined, and made into a new piece. One of the best parts about recycled gold is that it can be melted down and reused multiple times without losing its quality (it can be mixed with alloys to create the necessary carat of the gold).
There are three types of recycled gold: unprocessed recyclable gold (jewelry, coins, bullion bars, etc), industrial byproduct, or melted recyclable gold.
Recycled gold is not traceable unless you are working with rare heirloom gold. Not knowing where the gold comes from means that the ethics of recycled gold is questionable, especially since it could be conflict gold and have been mined in a method that may have hurt communities or the environment -- underpaying workers, using child labor, deforestation, polluting drinking water, etc.
Using recycled gold helps raise awareness regarding sourcing issues and the negative effects of mining. However, no amount of recycled gold has a direct impact on large-scale mining.
Now that we’ve discussed the two types of gold, which one is more ethical? In the long run, fairtrade gold is a more ethical choice for multiple reasons: fair wages, safe working conditions, transparent and traceable supply chain from jeweler to mine, and empowering local communities and miners. It also allows you as a consumer to support ethical businesses.
Recycled gold is still a viable option but it can be difficult to track from mine to market and has no impact on the mining industry. While it doesn’t do much for the environment, it’s a start: it raises awareness about sourcing issues even if it can’t reduce the demand for large-scale gold mining.