What I have gathered so far is this:
- Mining is evil, no two ways around it. We just can't pretend that wearing precious metals will ever be removed from a process that destroys the earth.
- Precious metals are never wasted. They can be endlessly recyclable by being refined and melted back down to their pure state - even the tiny filings when you are sanding a piece. I mean, you wouldn't throw out a piece of gold, right?! Just like "green" and "eco" get tossed around in order to market a product without meaning that they are sustainable or eco-friendly, "recycled" is the mythical term in the precious metal world. When you buy silver or gold, it is rarely ever made entirely with "newly mined" metals. The same companies refining it and producing the plate, wire, grain and ingots are always buying people's old gold and silver and adding that into the mix.
- The process that really has room for improvement is in the refining of precious metals. There are a couple of companies that use far less water than the industry standard and capture the chemicals used in the process in a more eco-friendly way.
Well, those companies don't exist in Canada yet, as far I can gather (I'm looking into that more closely). Making ethical bling would mean no longer purchasing my precious metal locally, paying US dollars (which ain't a pretty scene with our weak Canadian dollar right now), leaving a carbon footprint by having it shipped, and raising my prices which affects my local customers in a big way.
It's just like eating organic... until there is a major shift in the industry and in demand for ethical precious metals, there is a major price to be paid by the pioneers. But maybe it is time to blaze a brazen trail in that direction... In the meantime I will continue to build my studio with found and recycled objects, while encouraging the industry to make progress in any way I can.
Check this site out for more info: www.ethicalmetalsmiths.org
note: I haven't touched on diamonds and precious stones...I know there are more standards for ensuring that you aren't buying "blood" diamonds, illegal and endangered coral, etc - but as I rarely use any of these, I haven't done a lot of research in that area.