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What are the differences in CO2 emissions between recycled gold and mined gold?

5 min read

What are the differences in CO2 emissions between recycled gold and mined gold?

What we love about creating jewellery for people who care is the fluid definition of ‘care’ itself, the margins shifting from one person’s ethical standpoint to the next. We recognise, however, that this multifaceted sense of the word ‘ethics’ can prove overwhelming. Where to begin?

To make life easier for you, this blog sticks to the facts; comparing the carbon footprint of recycled gold directly to that of mined gold. If environmental sustainability is of importance to you, we hope these numbers assist you in deciding on the right metal for your ethical engagement ring, wedding band or unique bespoke commission.




The ‘Super Pit’ gold mine in Kalgoorlie, Western Australia

The jewellery industry is thought to contribute a relatively small percentage of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions when compared to agriculture, transportation and energy production. It’s worth bearing in mind, however, that agriculture, transportation and energy production are often implicitly linked with jewellery mining and production.

By far the jewellery industry’s biggest carbon emissions are those generated through mining and mineral processing. A few years back, a study revealed that mining in the Peruvian Amazon Rainforest alone equated to an area twice the size of Paris, emitting the equivalent of 250,000 cars per year.

For every piece of jewellery, roughly 95% of its carbon footprint is in the extraction and production of its metal alone. In simple terms, a wedding band created from recycled gold is inherently less impactful on the environment than one created from gold that’s just been mined.

We also know that the precious materials used to create jewellery have a dramatically higher weight-for-weight carbon cost than a day-to-day item like a banana or a coffee bean. From a positive perspective, this means a piece of jewellery crafted from recycled materials is metaphorically worth its weight in gold, its positive environmental impact surprisingly significant.




One big, one small: matching wedding bands with bepoke inner-band engravings

Whilst 1 gram of mined gold generates 36,410 grams of greenhouse gases, the recycled gold equivalent generates only 53 grams. In other words, that’s 686 times – or 99.8% - less carbon dioxide being released into the air.

Let’s say the average wedding band (if there is such a thing!) weighs 4 grams. If cast in newly mined gold, this ring alone would require the excavation of 20 tonnes of waste and account for 145,640 grams of greenhouse gases. That’s roughly the equivalent of what’s generated by the average British household in a seven-day week.

Of course, recycled gold is not carbon footprint exempt; before the obligatory transportation and manufacturing stages it must be melted down and often requires processing and refining, too. These processes are energy intensive, but incomparable to the carbon emissions of gold mining and production; 99.8% less impactful, in fact.



Estefania’s bespoke ‘Planets’ ring, crafted using 18ct gold and diamonds from her old jewellery

At the moment, any gold that has been transformed at least once after its primary refining from freshly mined gold can be considered ‘recycled’. In other words, newly mined gold can be converted into recycled gold without ever having seen a consumer. “If we take a closer look at the existing definitions for recycled gold, it becomes apparent that it is possible for ‘recycled gold’ to be made with material that has a very short journey from the mine to becoming recycled feedstock,” sustainable jewellery consultant Christina T. Miller observes. “Gold sits in the bank for a day or 50 years, but as soon as it is sold, it is labeled ‘recycled' just because it has changed ownership.”

We know that 100% of the gold ever mined since the beginning of human history is still with us above-ground, and that gold is an eternally renewable resource that won’t ever biodegrade. Regardless of its lifespan before being reclaimed, recycled gold is a straightforward and financially viable opportunity to utilise what’s already above-ground. However, when shopping around for a jeweller who feels like the right fit, it’s important to remain aware of how this broad definition of ‘recycled gold’ can pose the risk of greenwashing. Offering recycled gold alone is not a solution to the world’s carbon footprint issue. In fact, recycling gold is the bare minimum; a no-brainer. A jeweller who is truly committed to reducing their carbon emissions will offer recycled gold alongside other circular materials and impart a knowledgeable insight into their reasons for doing so.

‘Post-consumer’ recycled gold is gold that has been recovered from used consumer products for reuse in new products. These ‘used consumer products’ are not limited to inherited old pieces of jewellery. Gold is everywhere: it’s in our teeth, mobile phones, laptops and TVs. It’s inside the machines and medicines that the NHS use to treat us, the architectural structures we pass every day and the cars we drive.

This said, repurposing your old jewellery is the most straightforward means of ensuring your new engagement ring, wedding band or bespoke commission is definitely crafted from post-consumer recycled gold. Our bespoke remodelling service invites you to bring in your jewels and scraps and instil them with a new lease of life, be that through a gentle redesign or the process of melting down the old metal to start from scratch. This is not just an opportunity to slice the finished product’s carbon footprint by 99.8%, but to preserve legacies in the process.




A solitaire engagement ring embraced by jacket rings from our Artisan Filigree Collection, crafted exclusively from 18ct Fairmined Ecological Gold

It’s important to mention here that centring our definition of ‘sustainability’ exclusively on recycled materials disregards the 15 to 20 million artisanal and small-scale (ASM) miners and their communities worldwide who depend on mining as a line of income. According to the Doughnut Economics framework upon which we base all of our business decisions here at Lebrusan Studio, long-term socioeconomic sustainability is just as pressing as the needs of our planet. Incorporating traceable, newly-mined materials like Fairmined Ecological Gold and Ocean Diamonds into our offering alongside recycled materials is an opportunity for us to also invest in ASM miners and ensure their fair wages, fair trading opportunities, safe working conditions, healthcare and future prospects. Although the primary benefits of investing in artisanal materials are humanitarian, some ASM mines are even champions of environmental sustainability, too. There are Fairmined Ecological Gold mines in Peru, for example, where gold is extracted without the use of any mercury or cyanide whatsoever. Work practise here is entirely circular, from water resources to electricity and the storing of excavated earth, minimising carbon emissions significantly when compared to most other gold mining operations. ‘Mined gold’ does not strictly equate to ‘industry standard’ gold.

Of course, if your carbon footprint and our planet’s finite natural resources are of the utmost importance when making a purchase, post-consumer recycled gold is by far the most logical choice for you. But, for those simultaneously concerned about socioeconomic reparations, a certified artisanal gold could enable you to strike a balance.

“Every piece of jewellery you buy costs the planet something; it’s up to you to decide whether that cost is going to be big or small.”


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Love, Arabel & Team
Ruby McGonigle
Ruby McGonigle

Ruby McGonigle is a copywriter and digital marketing professional with over five years of jewellery industry experience. After graduating with a BA in Linguistics, she combined her passions for written word and all things sparkly by joining the Lebrusan Studio team as in-house wordsmith and content creator. Among bi-monthly blog posts, notable examples of Ruby's work include a think-piece on the ‘natural diamonds vs. lab-grown diamonds’ debate, a probe into why traceable and third party certified ASM gold is so important, and an investigation of why platinum is no longer more expensive than gold.