Recently we looked at different materials used in the fashion industry [link]. This article takes a similar approach, focusing on the jewellery making; a sector hosting 1,581 businesses in Australia. [Link]
The jewellery making is a tricky one as it is not always transparent how certain materials were sourced or made. Cfr. the limited access to Recycled Sterling Silver. A wonderful and sustainable alternative, but it can’t be sourced here in Australia.
The jewellery making sector is one where a slightly more sustainable approach will be applauded rather than doing absolutely nothing.
With determining a material’s sustainable footprint, we need to take more in consideration than just the material itself. We need to look at factors such as production methods, sourcing, and disposal practises. Additionally, new innovations and developments in the industry may impact materials’ sustainability profile.
Locally Crafted Australia believes that extracting materials from Earth and not being able to put them back in their original state, is non-sustainable. Sooner or later, that source will dry up. Unfortunately, the most commonly used materials in the jewellery making fall under this statement. We support and promote the more eco-friendlier alternatives and those businesses that make that effort.
Let us have a closer look.
All classic ones, such as Gold, Silver, Platinum, Diamonds, Gemstones (such as rubies, sapphires, emeralds) and Pearls are extracted via placer or vein mining methods or farming, and none of them can be put back.
The process of mining and extraction of precious metals such as gold from primary ore generates a massive quantity of mine wastes or tailings. The typical ratio of ore to concentrate is approximately 30 to 50:1, which means that 96% to 98% of the ore becomes waste material such as ground rock, process effluent, sand, clay, and water (Glaister & Mudd, 2010). Mine wastes produced from the mining process are treated using several methods, such as flotation, bacterial oxidation, and treatment with reagent, and then placed at a storage facility called the tailings storage facility where it often remains non-rehabilitated for years. [link]
Energy and water consumption, greenhouse gas emissions, waste rock and tailings management and water pollution are important environmental concerns for platinum for extraction and refining. Platinum used in jewellery making has a higher concentration.
Mineral resource exploitation also causes irreversible damage to the natural environment including deforestation, soil disturbance, air emissions, surface water pollution, groundwater contamination, dust, noise, workplace health and safety, and others. On top, other resources such as water are used, for cooling drilling machinery or cleaning or preparing the raw materials for their next phase. And then there are ethical, labour and social issues around the mining and production of these raw materials. Therefore, none of them are sustainable.
Many jewellery makers are very aware of all the above and choose to work with recycled materials instead, reducing the need for new ones.
Diamonds are a breed on their own. There is much commotion around the sourcing and mining of diamonds and the term Blood Diamonds says it all. Luckily The Kimberley Process has assisted creating more responsible mining practices and fair labor conditions.
Other materials such stainless steel, glass, ceramics, brass, wood and leather are on the rise. Let us have a brief look at each of them.
Stainless steel is a highly recyclable material and can be considered sustainable or even as a green material, especially if sourced from recycled content, which is more than half of all the stainless steel materials. On top, its production does not produce toxic run-off.
Brass is eco-friendly due to retaining its chemical characteristics, making it infinitely recyclable. It's recyclability reduces the requirement for new brass production which involves the mining and processing of raw materials.
When sourced from responsibly managed forests or reclaimed materials, wooden components can be considered sustainable. It is in fact one of the most sustainable and environmentally favourable construction materials available. This is due to its absorption of carbon dioxide while growing, adaptability as a product and recyclability or use as a biofuel.
Ceramic materials can be sustainable, especially when made from natural and non-toxic components. The production of ceramics can be resource-intensive and produce a significant amount of waste. For example, traditional ceramics production often requires large amounts of energy for firing.
Glazing; placing a thin, usually glossy, coating of a fused mixture applied to pottery or tiles, is made of silica, alumina, and other colorants, which can contain toxic chemicals.
Therefore, it's important to consider the entire production practice.
Glass is a highly recyclable material. It is even possible to turn glass back to a similar composition like sand.
Leather is again a bit of a tricky one as not everyone is happy wearing anything sourced from killed animals. But, as indicated in our Fashion blog [link], there are many leather alternatives that can be considered, enhancing the jewellery’s sustainable footprint.
Other newer materials.
Polymer Clay has an organic ring to it, however caution is required. Polymer clay is a type of modelling clay that becomes hard and durable when baked. It is commonly due to its versatility, wide range of colours, and ease of use. It is primarily composed of PVC (polyvinyl chloride) and a plasticiser. Even though PVC can be recycled, the latter component makes or breaks its sustainability level. Plasticisers such as Dioctyl terephthalate (DOTP), Dioctyl adipate (DOA) and Diisononyl phthalate (DINP) makes it a beautiful and sustainable material to work with. As a consumer it is extremely difficult to tell which components are used, unless it is clearly indicated.
Resin’s eco-friendly level depends on the additives used in its production. Resin contains the monomeric resin, a hardener, an accelerator and a plasticiser. Resin is only biodegradable if it is produced from organic materials. Resins like eco-resin, silicone resin, and epoxy resin are biodegradable. Resins like polyester/fiberglass resin, polyurethane resin, and thermoset resins are not biodegradable, which means that when it is disposed of it will not break down in the same way a natural material like wood, paper, or other plant matter will. Cured resin can be disposed off in regular rubbish, but it cannot be recycled.
Epoxy resin, the most popular choice of resin, is biodegradable.
It's worth noting that the sustainability of materials can be a complex issue, and this list only provides a general overview. It's recommended to research specific brands, certifications, and production practices to make more informed choices regarding sustainable jewellery.
It is important to note that sustainability considerations extend beyond the material itself. Factors such as the energy used during manufacturing, packaging waste, and disposal methods can also impact the overall sustainability of jewellery.
Locally Crafted Australia - Your Sustainable Choice