Did you know that silver mining, which is lumped under the heading of “industrial mining”, is one of the world’s most destructive industries? It’s highly polluting to the environment, and the industry often engages in labor practices that practically mimic slavery. Many mining companies use child labor in their mines.
Most of the world’s silver comes from a few key countries like Peru, Mexico, China, Chile and Australia. Essentially, silver is a by-product of other mining operations that dig out gold, copper, and zinc. Ecologist.org states:
According to the report ‘Dirty Metals: Mining, Communities and the Environment’, by Earthworks and Oxfam America, the environmental and social costs of metals mining include using as much as 10 per cent of world energy, arsenic emissions, cyanide and mercury poisoning, child labour and human rights abuses, as well as vast landscape damage.
If you’re scratching your head, wondering why you haven’t heard about this, you’re not alone. Consumer awareness is pretty low about silver, because according to Britannica.com, only about 25% of the silver mined each year goes into jewelry and silverware. The rest goes into our X-ray machines, our plasma TVs, and other consumer electronics and equipment.
So, silver is really “out of sight, out of mind”. Unlike the growing awareness about gold and diamonds, silver is off the radar for most consumers.
All of this is why we should look for ethical silver when we shop for jewelry. What is ethical silver?
Well, you can also call it “recycled silver”. That’s the most environmentally-friendly silver there is.
There’s really no way to have “ethical silver”; in July 2009 attempts were made by mining groups and environmental leaders to come up with an ethical standard. The groups couldn’t agree on the terms, and no consensus was reached.
You can make a big difference simply by purchasing used or antique jewelry, or buying jewelry you know is made from recycled silver. Antique stores, flea markets, Etsy, and Craigslist are wonderful places to look for recycled silver pieces.
Filed under: Fair Trade Living on May 11th, 2010