Beautiful, sparkling diamonds dazzle on your bare neck, eyes are drawn to the sapphires against your wrist, and your finger lights up with shining amethyst set in gold. Thousands of miles away, the company that sold you all those stunning pieces destroys the land they once resided in.
While last week we talked about pearls (which you should read if you haven’t already), a sustainable gemstone, this week aims to shed light on some of the darker aspects of the jewelry industry. First off, several ethical concerns stain the jewelry you may wear, the main issue of which is child labor. Many gemstone mines utilize child labor, which is not only awful for a child to experience in childhood, but also results in terrible health conditions at a young age. In addition, jewelry harvesting is incredibly hazardous. Miners typically lack necessary safety equipment, which allows dangerous dust particles to enter the lung and cause long-term and deadly health effects.
In regards to the environment, it doesn't get any better. Most importantly, jewelry harvesting, like many industries, results in the disturbance of ecosystems through deforestation, soil degradation, and pollution that directly leads to environmental destruction. First, to reach the areas underground to mine gemstones, companies must clear out any obstacles, which, in this case, means trees and local wildlife. Once the land is cleared, companies must then find a way down to the jewels. Oftentimes, this means open-pit mining, which results in the removal of topsoil, which can leave the land unusable for the locals that originally lived there. Finally, the extraction of gemstones utilizes many dangerous chemicals, like cyanide and mercury, which are then released into the nearby air and water, poisoning plants, animals, and humans alike.
Still, this doesn’t mean you need to give up your jewelry. Like many other unsustainable goods, there are alternatives. For one, you can buy from brands that work to be ethical and environmentally sustainable. If you can’t find any, or they’re too expensive for your budget, you can buy your jewelry second-hand or borrow it from someone you know. The point is, like many things in our society that we treasure, most jewelry isn’t good for our planet. However, we can learn from gems that are sustainable, like pearls, and work to emulate their practices and try to avoid buying from companies that put profits over our planet.