When it comes to jewellery, recycling (or rather reprocessing) has always been necessary, due to the value of the raw materials used, and as such it is a practice that has very little to commend it. Scraps of gold or silver have never gone to waste, they have been recycled over hundreds of years, simply because they have been too valuable to throw away.

The clean origin of any recycled metal cannot be guaranteed, as it is not traceable to extraction, unlike metal from responsible artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM) organisations. This means that dirty-mined gold is easy to transform into recycled gold, especially in terms manufacturing waste. Likewise, there is nothing to assure us that the recycled gold being used has not been sourced from that stolen decades ago by the Nazis from the Jewish people, or that plundered centuries ago from the indigenous American peoples by the Spanish colonisers.

Another fundamental difference with respect to certified fair metal is that no added positive social value comes with recycling. Beyond the topics of fair prices, decent conditions and environmental respect that are all guaranteed with responsible ASM, not to mention the economic activity that is stimulated in these traditionally impoverished regions, furthermore, when ASM is recognised by certification standards such as Fairmined or Fairtrade, the mining bodies themselves receive premiums that are used for community development projects (infrastructure, health, education, etc.). Using responsibly sourced gold and silver has a direct, visible and measurable impact for the benefit of the miner and the well-being of the community.

This does not mean that recycled gold is a bad option, but rather that there is still much room for improvement in this field, especially in terms of provenance and transparency, where mandatory requirements must be implemented by means of a highly-reliable certification system. This action should not be a declaration of intent, as is sometimes the case, but an internally-recorded and externally-audited action. The monitoring system applied to recycling still has a long way to go, and it needs to be far more effective than it is at present. In addition, it is important to review the concept of recycling, which should only apply to metal from e-waste.

From our perspective, given the real availability of fair and traceable metal, the use of recycled metal is not a valid option in truly responsible and proactive jewellery production practices. If we really want to make a difference, and have a real impact on the mining industry, the only way forward is to support the responsible mining initiatives found in ASM, given their high impact on the creation of decent jobs, community development and on environmental sustainability.

For further information, see the article Why is recycled metal not the first choice for responsible jewellery?