All That Glitters. ; the Gold on Your Finger May Have Cost More Than Mere Cash. but One Designer Is Creating Jewellery with a Conscience. by Kate Burt
Burt, Kate, The Independent (London, England)
So you're an environmentally enlightened couple, engaged to be married.
You're doing your bit to plan a green wedding - you've included a charity gift of tree-planting on your wedding list to help offset the hefty carbon footprint created by the honeymoon in Mauritius; the menu is almost all seasonal and locally sourced, and at least the engagement ring on your or your fiancee's finger, and the wedding rings you will exchange, are ethically and environmentally sound, right? Well, no, almost certainly not. And you may be surprised to discover why.
While the Kimberley Process, a certification programme introduced in 2003, now guarantees that 99 per cent of diamonds sold in the UK and 69 other signed-up countries are "conflict free", the provenance of the gold in which your stone is set remains dubious. In fact, it's almost certainly at least as unethical as stones from areas controlled by rebel forces, as well as being environmentally catastrophic, according to designer Katharine Ham-nett, who this month is launching a range of wedding and engage-ment rings that use not only certified "clean" Canadian diamonds, but also "Green Gold", in association with the ethical jewellery company Cred.
"People think clothing is a nightmare," says the fashion designer, who brought organic cotton, sweat-shop awareness and political T-shirts to the mainstream. "But gold is a nightmare." "And yet nobody has a clue," adds Cred's Greg Valerio, Hamnett's partner in the jewellery venture, who is with her today at the designer's north London studio. "Nearly all the gold in the world is made into jewellery, and jewellers flog it as if it's an innocent bit of lovey dove. It's not. Look," he continues, pointing at his own well-worn wedding ring, "that is three tonnes of toxic waste right there."
"People just don't realise how gold is mined," explains Hamnett. "Effectively, a mining company will blow up a mountain, crush it - gone, so it doesn't exist any more - and then pour cyanide over the rubble to draw out the gold."
According to Oxfam America, one mine in Papua New Guinea generates 200,000 tons of this cyanide-laced waste rock per day. The disposal of such vast amounts of waste is often highly problematic. It is stored in reservoirs (which can leak), or dumped in rivers, lakes or the sea. According to the American research institute World Watch, when a dam in Romania containing such waste broke in 2000, some 100,000 cubic metres of waste water containing cyanide and heavy metals made its way into the Danube, killing around 165 tons of fish.
In smaller-scale mining operations mercury, instead of cyanide, is often used to leach gold from the rock. But this job is often done "in a backroom with a blowtorch", says Valerio, so that the toxic air is inhaled by the workers - often children, because the work is not physically demanding. Exposure to high levels of mercury can permanently damage the brain.
Counting the Cost of Gold, a report by international aid agency, Cafod, claims toxic waste is just the tip of the gold-mining nightmare. Ecological destruction is immense: two-thirds of newly mined gold is extracted from open-pit mines so large that some are visible from space. There are also tales of large-scale forced evictions and displacements.
Rather than feeling defeated under the weight of the enormous changes that the jewellery industry needs to undergo to be even halfway ethical and environmentally sound, Cred is starting small, but very solidly working towards rebuilding things from the ground up.
The organisation is partners with a pioneering non-profit corporation, Green Gold, which works with mining communities in Colombia and aims to reverse the damage done to ecosystems by large- scale mining. …