The extraction of precious metals is harmful to the environment. The most common metals are gold, silver and platinum. Today, these metals are an essential part of most products, for example, smartphones.
The frequent use of precious metals in today’s products raises serious sustainability concerns. In fact, many metals come from unsustainable mining practices, such as operations that destroy natural areas and ignore fundamental human rights. For example, some mining operations use child labour. Others expose workers to poisonous substances.
One way to choose more sustainable and responsible products is to trace the origin of the metals. Some companies offer this service on their web pages. However, tracing the source of metals can still be complex. Read more on this below.
How are precious metals extracted?
The extraction of metals happens through mining and then washing the findings. This procedure pollutes nature and can be very harmful to humans and animals. Large natural landscapes have gotten destroyed in the search for precious metals. More so, without any requirement to restore or consider the landscape. Among many things, it is also common for mining operations to poison the nearby waters. As mentioned, human rights abuse, such as child labour, is also common.
Metal mining operations often prioritise short-term profits. In other words, their priority is to make money. Therefore, workers’ rights and nature come second or third (at best). For example, mining can cause serious workplace injuries such as mercury poisoning.
Another severe aspect is that the metals can be used as payment to finance wars. It is also common for them to be used to pay for illegal activities. Partly because of this, it is challenging to determine the origin of precious metals today. The metals pass too many hands from the producer to the consumer. These issues are particularly severe for socially vulnerable people in Africa, Asia and Latin America.
What are precious metals?
Precious metals exist in a pure form in nature. This fact makes them different from “ordinary metals”. As a result, precious metals do not react much with the surrounding environment. This quality is what makes them so valuable. For example, the material is solid and long-lasting. Also, precious metals have a higher melting point than base metals.
Humans and precious metals
Humans have been using precious metals since the Stone Age. In particular, gold and silver got used as money. Today, the primary use of these metals is for industries. However, their value is still high. For instance, gold is a popular investment. Of course, metals also get used for jewellery, just as they have been for thousands of years.
Gold mining is one of the world’s largest sources of mercury emissions. As mentioned earlier, this comes with the risk of severe health issues. According to an investigation made in 2011 by the Blacksmith institution, 3.5 million people had suffered mercury-related injuries by that year. For example, people had damaged immune systems, nervous systems and kidneys. Furthermore, even unborn babies suffered permanent brain damage from their parent’s breathing in mercury. Another discovery was that mine workers had shorter life spans. Some even link rising gold prices to increased mercury emissions.
Silver is the best metal for transmitting electricity and heat. For example, it is part of most smartphones. The metal has similar mining and human rights concerns as gold.
When concerning private use of precious metals, it makes a huge difference to choose Fairtrade gold and silver. Fairtrade works against all the negative aspects of mining. Among other things, they work against child labour. More so, they make sure that the workers have protective equipment.
Additionally, recycling all types of metals used in a household is very important. Recycling helps work against the misuse of the Earth’s resources.