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The extraction of precious metals is harmful for the environment. The most common metals are gold, silver and platinum. Today, these metals are an essential part of most products. For example electronic products such as smartphones.

The common use of precious metals in today’s products raises serious concerns about their sustainability. As many metals are connected to unsustainable mining practises. Such as mines that destroy natural areas and has a lack of respect for basic human rights. For example, it is common that mines are connected to child labour and/or that workers are exposed to poisonous substances. Yet, one way to ensure that products are made of better materials is to look into where they come from. Some companies have even started to offer these services on their webpages. However, tracing the origin of metals can still be complex. Read more on this below.

How are precious metals extracted?

The extraction of metals happens through a procedure of mining and then washing the findings. This procedure pollutes nature and can be very harmful for humans and animals as well. Large natural landscapes have been destroyed in the search of precious metals. More so, without any requirement to restore or consider the landscape. Among many things, it is also common that the water, close to the mines, gets poisoned. 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 dangerous 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 least to say difficult to verify the origin of precious metals today. The metals simply pass too many hands from the producer to the consumer. More so, these issues are particularly severe for socially vulnerable people in Africa, Asia and Latin America.

Picture of an open pit mine, precious metals can be extracted this way.

What are precious metals?

Precious metals are found in a pure form in nature. This is what makes them different from “ordinary metals”. As a result of this, precious metals do not react much with the surrounding environment. This quality is what makes them so valuable. For example, as the material is very strong 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 both gold and silver have been used as means of payment. Today, the main use of these metals is for the industry. However, their value is still high, which means that gold in particular is seen as an investment. Of course, the metals are also used to make jewellery, just as they have been for thousands of years.

Gold

Gold mining is one of the world’s largest sources of mercury emissions. As mentioned earlier, this comes with the risk of serious health issues. According to an investigation made in 2011 from the Blacksmith institution, 3.5 million people had suffered injuries related to mercury by then. For example, people had damaged immune systems, nervous systems and kidneys. Furthermore, even unborn babies had suffered permanent brain damage from their parent’s inhalations of mercury. Another discovery was that mine workers had shorter life spans. Additionally, a rising gold prices is believed to be connected to an increase of mercury emissions.

Silver

Silver is the metal that has the greatest conductivity for electricity and heat (best at transmitting). The metal is for example found in most smartphones. More so, the metal has similar mining and human rights concerns as gold.

Conscious consumption

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 precious metals. Among other things, they are against child labour. More so, they make sure that the workers have protective equipment.

Additionally, it is very important to recycle all types of metals used in a household. Recycling helps to discourage the misuse of the Earth’s resources.

 


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